"SALLIES OF THE IMAGINATION"
VISUAL IMAGERY AND THE WORKS OF LAURENCE STERNE
WILLIAM BLAKE GERARD
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
William Blake Gerard
I would like to express my gratitude to Patricia Craddock and Alistair Duckworth, whose
invaluable commentary of my work strengthened not only this dissertation, but also my
perspective of scholarship; I would also like to thank C. John Sommerville for his last-
minute help. I am especially indebted to my director, Melvyn New, whose outstanding
examples of professionalism, integrity, and, above all, humanity, represent seemingly
unattainable models for my nascent career. I also gratefully acknowledge the remarkable
contributions of my family, whose inspiration and support made this project possible in
ways too numerous to count here.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1 "THE QUICKEST COMMERCE WITH THE SOUL": AN EXAMINATION OF
THE FUNCTION OF VISUALITY IN THE WORKS OF
LAURENCE STERNE 1
A Political Romance and Memoirs 19
A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy 20
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy. Gentleman 26
2 CRITICAL COMMENTARY ON STERNE'S VISUALITY 54
Part 1: "Anti-Shandeans, thrice-able Critics, and fellow-labourers":
Part 2: "Your Criticks and Gentry of refined taste": Sterne and the Visual
after 1964 98
3 TO "MUTUALLY ILLUSTRATE HIS SYSTEM & MINE": EIGHT WAYS OF
LOOKING AT "TRIM READING THE SERMON," 1883-1995 142
4 BENEVOLENT VISION: THE IDEOLOGY OF SENTIMENTALITY IN
CONTEMPORARY ILLUSTRATIONS A SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY AND
THE MAN OF FEELING 188
5 "POOR HAPLESS DAMSEL!": VISUALIZATIONS OF THE MADWOMAN
UNDER THE TREE, 1770-1884 241
APPENDIX: A SELECTED LIST OF VISUAL REPRESENTATIONS OF THE
WORKS OF LAURENCE STERNE 312
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 317
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
"SALLIES OF THE IMAGINATION":
VISUAL IMAGERY AND THE WORKS OF LAURENCE STERNE
William B. Gerard
Chair: Melvyn New
Major Department: English
An outstanding component of the writings of Laurence Sterne — present in his
correspondence and sermons as well as Tristram Shandy and A Sentimental Journey — is
his use of pictorial language and technique, a rhetorical trope I label "visuality." The
starting point of this study is an extensive examination of visuality throughout Sterne's
works, not only to document its prevalence but also to discover and identify similarities in
its use throughout his diverse work. For example, Sterne consistently asks his readers to
visualize a character or place with carefully crafted descriptions conveyed by words alone.
The second chapter is a thorough survey of the critical commentary on Sterne, from
the first reviews to the latest scholarly writings. Although detailed discussion of Sterne's
visuality has coalesced only in the last forty years, I have uncovered a significant history of
similar discussion spanning the more than two centuries since Sterne's first publication
that represents him as an artist reflective of contemporary values: thus Sterne is described
as a realist, impressionist, mannerist, and surrealist.
These chapters provide the foundation for two subsequent chapters exploring several
ways in which the visual illustrators of Sterne's texts, from the contemporary works of
Hogarth and Bunbury to the recent photo-collages of John Baldessari and the comic book
by Martin Rowson, all function as interpreters of Sterne's own visuality, through what W.
J. T. Mitchell describes as the "dialectic of word and image" Chapter 3 examines eight
variations of "Trim reading the sermon" that have accompanied editions of Tristram
Shandv in the last 120 years; the wide range of depictions of this scene— sentimental,
comic, stylized, and abstract— suggest changing critical and cultural attitudes towards
Sterne's work as well as towards the idea of text itself (symbolized by the sermon) in the
twentieth century. Chapter 4 examines the contemporary illustrations of both A
Sentimental Journey and Mackenzie's The Man of Feeling as didactic readings that
emphasize socially benevolent sentiment. Chapter 5 views the changing visual depictions
of "Poor Maria" between 1770 and 1884 as indications of shifts in the perception of the
"THE QUICKEST COMMERCE WITH THE SOUL": 1
AN EXAMINATION OF THE FUNCTION OF VISUALITY
IN THE WORKS OF LAURENCE STERNE
Within a week of his arrival in London as the celebrated author of the highly successful
first two volumes of Tristram Shandy . Laurence Sterne wrote to William Hogarth to
request an illustration for the first London edition of his book. 2 In a letter delivered by an
intermediary, Richard Berenger, Sterne jestingly offers "both my Ears ... for no more
than ten Strokes of Howgarth's witty Chissel, to clap at the Front of my next Edition of
Shandy ." Evoking the pictorial phrase "Orna me," an echo of Swift's correspondence to
Pope, Sterne adds, "Write something of Yours to mine, to transmit us down together hand
in hand to futurity." 3 Sterne requested a rendition of a specific scene from the artist,
asking for the "loosest Sketch in Nature, of Trim's reading the Sermon to my Father &c,"
a passage Sterne endowed with both a strong sense of the visual and numerous references
to Hogarth's treatise, The Analysis of Beauty . An illustration by Hogarth of this scene,
Sterne states somewhat enigmatically, "w d do the Business & it w d mutually illustrate
his System & mine— " ( Letters 99).
The scene Sterne suggests uniquely manifests his "visuality" — a term I will use to
designate an author's tendency toward the use of visual elements in a verbal text. This
quality is apparent on several levels in Sterne's description of Trim reading the sermon:
Sterne uses visual language to create the scene, cramming the pictorial description with
minute detail; he directly relates the process of verbal description to the process of visual
representation (IS 18.104.22.168-25); and, bringing to the forefront Tristram's self-
consciousness, Sterne uses the passage to reflect on his own rhetorical technique of the
visual (IS II. 17. 141. 26-28).
Hogarth responded with an illustration which weaves together two separate
descriptions in the text. His depiction of Dr. Slop asleep in the chair visualizes a passage
that appears twenty pages before the sermon-reading:
Imagine to yourself a little, squat, uncourtly figure of a Doctor Slop , of about
four feet and a half perpendicular height, with a breadth of back, and a
sesquipedality of belly, which might have done honour to a Serjeant in the Horse-
Such were the out-lines of Dr. Slop's figure, which, — if you have read
Hogarth 's analysis of beauty, and if you have not, I wish you would; — you must
know, may as certainly be caracatur'd, and convey' d to the mind by three strokes
as three hundred. (IS II.9.121.1-10)
In his rendering of Dr. Slop (see fig. 1-1), Hogarth seems especially attentive to Sterne's
"three strokes" of verbal description — height, breadth, and belly — portraying Slop as an
ensemble of simple forms and lines, a caricature rather than a realistically drawn human
figure. Hogarth's depiction of Slop, however, is a projection of the spirit as well as of the
literal meaning of Sterne's portrayal, visually capturing the graceful brevity of the tone of
the prose as well as its tendency toward unlikely embellishment.
In contrast, Sterne's description of the central element of the sermon-reading scene,
the figure of Corporal Trim, abounds in visual detail. Sterne explains that "before the
Corporal begins, I must first give you a description of his attitude" (T_S II. 17. 140.7-8);
"attitude" is, of course, a word borrowed in this context from the vocabulary of the visual
arts, an equivalent to "pose" today, and Sterne seems to be self-consciously placing
himself in the role of visual artist. Sterne perversely suggests that "to paint Trim, as if he
was standing in his platoon ready for action" would be "as unlike all this as you can
conceive" (IS 22.214.171.124-15), implying, as he does elsewhere in Tristram Shandv . that
significance frequently lies in the unseen and unsaid. His description absurdly employs the
absurd precision of a systematic draftsman, calculating the position of Trim's body "to
make an angle of 85 degrees and a half upon the plain of the horizon" (TS II. 17. 140.17-
18). In addition, the minute physical description of Trim's exact pose (TS 126.96.36.199-
22; 141.12-25; 142.1-11) suggests that this passage is a skeptical reflection of Walter's—
and possibly Hogarth's — tendency to create, and attempt to abide by, questionable
systems. These various uses of visual rhetoric serve to simultaneously describe a "picture"
for readers and satirically reflect upon the description.
Some of the satirical aspects of the references to the visual arts in this passage have
been noted by R. F. Brissenden, who more broadly observes that "Sterne is clearly
interested both in the formal pictorial values of his 'composition' and in the physical
relationships which govern the disposition of the objects that come within its boundaries."
Remarking that the "possibility of drawing formal analogies between writing and painting
. . . obviously interested Sterne" (105), Brissenden only begins to explore the enormous
variety and frequency of Sterne's visuality. The governing metaphor of the visual is to
Brissenden first and foremost a means to an end: it "illuminates the philosophical bases of
his satire" (93). In contrast to the critical inclination, of Brissenden and others, to divert
the analysis of Sterne's visuality toward a generic end (such as satire), I will attempt to
demonstrate, in the pages that follow, that Sterne's earnest and spontaneous use of the
visual is not only abundant and multi-faceted, but is also meaningful as an end in itself.
Perhaps the most extensive writer to date on Sterne's visuality, William V. Holtz, finds
a similar argument rising from the passage, asserting that the "figure of Trim is clearly
mock pictorial— in Sterne's intention if not in Tristram's." 5 Holtz notes that the writer's
attitude toward Hogarth in the passage "seems to have been one of amused admiration"
(25), pointing out that Sterne's description is "couched in phrases that question the
adequacy of Hogarth's theory" (26). Holtz concludes that Sterne's descriptive method
projects a "system" at variance with Hogarth's, consisting of "a detailed representation of
posture, gesture, and expression within the limits of nature " (26). Sterne's implicit
system, Holtz contends, is somehow both "in opposition to Hogarth's own" and "also a
technical analogue of Hogarth's own style." While broadening the discussion about the
visual references in Sterne's description, aspects of Holtz' s analysis seem to undermine his
contention that Sterne meant the scene as "criticism" of Hogarth; if Sterne's aim were
critical (much less satiric) perhaps it would have been less ambiguous. In addition, it
would be unlikely that Sterne would direct Hogarth to a passage satirizing the artist's
work while asking him a favor.
Hogarth not only seems to acknowledge Sterne's references to him in his depiction
with his portrayals of Trim and Dr. Slop, but also includes other elements described by
Sterne, as if to anchor the illustration more surely in the text (as well as literally
responding to Sterne's plaintive "Orna me"). Mentioned elsewhere in Tristram Shandy ,
but pictured here, is Toby's map (although Sterne does not specify its location on the
parlor wall); the engraving's second state, based on additions to the original drawing by
Hogarth, also features Trim's hat on the floor and a clock which might be associated with
the "large house-clock which we had standing upon the back-stairs head" (IS 188.8.131.52-19)
that Walter winds punctually every month. 6
More subtle connections exist as well. In his study of Hogarth, Ronald Paulson
observes that the descriptions of Trim and Slop "are in fact based on the comic ratios of
Hogarth's chapter 'Of Quantity'" in The Analysis of Beauty and, more broadly, notes that
in Tristram Shandy "everywhere traces of Hogarth and Hogarthian assumptions are to be
found." 7 In another examination of the artist, Jenny Uglow also finds affinities between
Hogarth and Sterne, citing their mutual interest in the "shaping power of passion" as well
as their shared ability "to express personality through the body." Perhaps most
significantly, Uglow describes Tristram Shandy as an analogue of Hogarth's work, using
visual language to suggest that "its narrative circled like a Hogarth print, where we choose
our starting point, pause on details and fill in gaps."
Given the background of the visual elements in the text and the references to Hogarth
in the first two volumes of Tristram Shandy , the artist's visual interpretation invites
speculation about how the illustration comments on the text itself. Brissenden asserts that
Hogarth's portrayal maintains a "spirit of comic inversion" (99), maintaining that
Hogarth's depiction is a visual counterpart to Sterne's text, rather than a commentary or a
continuation of a dialogue between text and image. Holtz, even though he feels that
Tristram Shandy had "adapted — and criticized" (28) Hogarth's earlier theories, also sees
the illustration of Trim reading the sermon as complementing Sterne's text, since "Slop
and Trim illustrate Hogarth's distinction between caricature and the comic" (29).
Considering the interpretive function of Hogarth's visualization, Melvyn New notes a
close agreement between the illustration and Sterne's description, not only in the artist's
inclusion of significant items (especially in the more detailed second state), but also in their
respective compositions, where "in typical Hogarthian fashion, the sermon defines the
visual centre of the work." 9 New points out that the success of this verbal-visual union is
manifested in the "transparency" of Hogarth's illustration, which "allows us to see the text
through the drawing; by uniting text and image, he unites Sterne with the reader." In its
ability to form a bridge between Sterne's words and his reader, Hogarth's image also
represents the artist's acceptance of the author's aesthetic challenge; the result engages the
reader/viewer as well, who, willing and observant, finds him- or herself swept up in the
exchange between writer and artist.
Hogarth's ability to continue the conversation with Sterne is facilitated by shared
descriptive techniques and aesthetic philosophies. Brissenden finds "a remarkable
similarity between some of his [Sterne's] own ideas and methods and those of William
Hogarth" (93; explored again and at length by Holtz, 26-27), and identifies their shared
stylistic qualities as a kind "satiric rococo" that has the "qualities of lightness, elegance,
surprise and wit" (107). Catherine Gordon sees the parallel between the ideas of artist and
writer as being particularly evident in the revision of "the initial hastily prepared plate"
which implies Hogarth's growing "appreciation of Sterne's technique of allusion and
association." 11 To Gordon, this indicates Hogarth's discovery of "a correspondence
between the writer's approach and his own" and "supports Sterne's assertion that the
engravings 'would mutually illustrate his System and mine.'"
Although Holtz asserts that there is "evidence that Sterne had Hogarth's theory of
comic forms in mind in other places" (29) in Tristram Shandy , he does not see the
illustration itself as a reflection of Sterne's commentary about the artist. Approaching
Tristram Shandy from a Hogarthian perspective, Ronald Paulson asserts that "many of
Hogarth's doctrines of contrast, of variety, and above all of intricacy" are evident in
Sterne's work. 13
The engraving of the sermon-reading scene was followed by Hogarth's illustration of
Tristram's christening for the frontispiece to Volume Three the following year (see fig.
My father followed Susannah with his night-gown across his arm, with nothing
more than his breeches on, fastened through haste with but a single button, and
that button through haste thrust only half into the button-hole.
— She has not forgot the name, cried my father, half opening the door
(TS IV. 14.344. 18-23)
Importantly, this passage immediately follows the curate's cranky christening of Tristram,
so the arrival of Walter depicted in the illustration is a particularly Shandean moment of
inevitable frustration; in fact, in Hogarth's portrayal the curate's lips still seem to be in
motion, just finishing their pronouncement. Susannah looks on smugly, while the face of
the strangely expressive infant Tristram appears panicked at the apparent chaos around
him. A floor clock stands in the background, perhaps a reference to the previous
illustration as well as a reminder of the very beginning of Tristram's pattern of
disruption — his conception.
No intriguing request from Sterne, if ever there was one, survives to put Hogarth's
depiction of the christening into a literary or historic context; we do not know whether
Sterne requested the subject in another fashion (in person or through the publisher) or
whether Hogarth chose it himself. It is worthwhile to note, however, that Sterne's
description of this moment, like the sermon-reading scene, is described in particularly
visual terms, inviting illustration with a number of graphic cues (Walter's position, his
disheveled dress, and his act of opening the door). 14 In his rendition of the christening,
Hogarth seems to follow a pattern established in the sermon-reading scene of focusing on
a central point of action, close adherence to the verbal text in the depiction of character
and setting, and the inclusion of only a few ornamental, non-textual elements (such as the
portrait over the door) which might be seen as distractions from Sterne's meaning.
Although in this instance Sterne provides no explicit discussion of aesthetic theory for
Hogarth to comment visually upon, the illustration nevertheless becomes a similar
complement to the text.
Sterne's interest in using language to evoke aspects of the visual is evident throughout
his writings, although the type of visuality, as well as its intensity and frequency, varies
among his works. Sterne's visuality is perhaps most prominent in the highly pictorial
constructions of character and scene, a technique which, as I demonstrate in Chapter 2,
has repeatedly caught the attention of critics for more than 240 years; it is also evident in
his discussions about writing and metaphors, and in his assertions of the primacy of the
visual sense. 15 Although an exhaustive listing here of every visual element in Sterne's
work would displace most other directions for this study, I do want to review thoroughly
(if not comprehensively) the occurrence of visuality in his texts as a means of establishing
the different styles of this rhetorical technique, and suggest the significance of the visual as
an under-explored aspect of Sterne's writing. A careful investigation of Sterne's visuality
also provides a valuable basis for the discussion of the interpretive function of the visual
representations of Sterne's work that will be addressed in future chapters.
Although Sterne employs visual rhetoric in his letters, his correspondence also
provides a glimpse into the extent of his interest in things visual, either in the form of
decorative prints, the various apparatus of drawing and painting, or his unique relationship
with a portrait of Eliza Draper. This evidence of Sterne's interest in the visual arts—
which in the instances of the portraits of himself and especially of Eliza verged on the
obsessive — suggests one basis from which his rhetorical visuality sprang.
As a window into his personal life, Sterne's letters reveal the persistence and range of
his interest in the acquisition and production of the visual arts. Sterne tells Stephen Croft
that he "will take care to get your pictures well copied," 16 and relates his acquisition of
"six beautiful Pictures executed on Marble at Rome" to Eliza ( Letters 357), and, a few
months before his death, thanks "L.S. Esq." for "the prints— I am much your debtor for
them— if I recover from my ill state of health ... I will decorate my study with them"
( Letters 412). On two occasions, Sterne states that he gave Mrs. James "a present of
Colours apparatus for painting" ( Letters 324; see also 412); Sterne infrequently brings up
gift-giving in his correspondence, and perhaps this mention is indicative of the priority he
placed on the visual arts. His commentary on amateur artistry is not always positive,
however: he counsels his daughter Lydia that since "you have no genius for drawing . .
pray waste not your time about it" ( Letters 212).
Sterne's correspondence provides instances of pointed criticism of visual art, as well.
Sterne remarks on the almost magical properties of Benjamin West's portrait of William
James to "L.S." (probably Laurence Sulivan, see Letters 413 n. 1): "such goodness is
painted in that face, that when one looks at it, let the soul be ever so much un-harmonized,
it is impossible it should remain so" ( Letters 412). 18 Sterne also carefully analyzes a
portrait of Eliza Draper: "It is the resemblance of a conceited, made-up coquette," not an
accurate depiction, and presents an "affected leer" and other errors "which is a proof of
the artist's, or your friend's false taste" (Letters 313). While he provides specific points of
analysis, in both cases Sterne uses commentary about visual representations to reinforce
and project his personal opinion of the subjects— James's beneficence and Eliza's beauty.
On three separate occasions in the letters, Sterne discusses portraits of himself at
length. On one occasion, he asks Robert Foley,
is it possible for you to get me over [to England] a Copy of my picture anyhow?— If
so — i would write to M lle Navarre to make as good a Copy from it as She possibly
could— with a view to do her Service here— & I w d remit her 5 Louis— I really
believe, twil be the parent of a dozen portraits to her— if she executes it with the spirit
of the Original in / hands— for it will be seen by half London— and as my Phyz— is as
remarkable as myself if she preserves the Character of both, 'twil do her honour &
service too (Letters 231)
Sterne's detailed consideration of his portrait, its reproduction, and its effect on the public,
points to the high value he placed on the impact of visual representation. More
specifically, his interest seems to stem from the potent combination of his avid interest in
the visual arts and the representation of himself to posterity — and, quite likely, the
opportunity to perform an act of kindness for a young French woman.
Sterne's personal interest in portraiture is, however, most dramatically manifested in
his nearly obsessive relationship with a portrait miniature of Eliza Draper. He relates, for
example, in the Journal to Eliza :
after a tolerable night, I am able, Eliza, to sit up and hold a discourse with the sweet
Picture thou hast left behind thee of thyself, & tell it how much I had dreaded the
catastrophe, of never seeing its dear Original more in this world — never did that Look
of sweet resignation appear so eloquent as now; it has said more to my heart— &
cheard it up more effectually above little fears & may be' s — Than all the Lectures of
philosophy I have strength to apply to it, in my present Debility of mind and body.
To Sterne, the picture of Eliza acts as a replacement for the actual person, allowing him to
hold an imaginary (yet vivid) two-way "discourse" with the image. The effect of the
portrait is almost magical, touching the beholder on a super-rational plane above "all the
Lectures of philosophy"; the image's eloquence, which apparently makes reason-driven
"philosophy" ineffectual, speaks directly to Yorick's heart (a parallel might be drawn to
the contrast between Walter Shandy's logical systems and Trim's and Toby's intuition).
Perhaps more than any other example of Sterne's mention of actual paintings in his letters,
his empowering of Eliza's portrait attests to his belief in the power which the visual can
convey beyond words. This conviction is also suggested (although less passionately) in
the meaning Sterne seemingly invests in the many carefully crafted pictorial descriptions of
character in his work.
The relationship between Sterne and Eliza's portrait is so compelling that the image
also takes on the role of proxy social companion with whom Sterne travels, and about
whom he invites comments from others. The scenario described in the 13 June entry of
Journal to Eliza is typical: "Your picture has gone round the Table after supper — & /
health after it, my invaluable friend! — even the Ladies, who hate grace in another, seemd
struck with it in You . . ." ( Letters 379). 21 It seems that Sterne was not reticent about
publicly parading his affections for Eliza Draper, and he produced the portrait frequently;
Cash notes five instances but adds, "There must have been dozens of other times of which
we have no record" (275 n. 54). Sterne seems to have had so strong a bond with this
particular piece of art that he is even pictured, in a caricature portrait, showing off the
miniature of Eliza [see fig. 1-4].
The many instances of Sterne's describing a picture in his letters are also characteristic
of similar visual moments in his other writings. Howard Anderson comments on the
power of Sterne's letters to engage his reader visually, pointing out that "Sterne is adept
at rendering a scene so that the reader quickly takes part in it, rather than presenting a
description from which he can stand aside." 23 One of Sterne's first surviving letters relates
to his wife-to-be, Elizabeth Lumley, the story of the death of a friend "by a sad accident"
( Letters 18), and asks: "Who can paint the distress of an affectionate mother, made a
widow in a moment, weeping in bitterness over a numerous, helpless, and fatherless
offspring?" ( Letters 19). The evocative nature here is not dependent on painstaking visual
precision for its success; indeed, the qualities of being "helpless" and "fatherless" elude
simple visualization. Sterne's creation of an evocative picture (signaled not only by the
verb "paint" but by the specific "direction" of the style and content of the prose) is notable
here because of the recurrence of a similar technique throughout Sterne's later work —
similar to the visual imperative evident in his sermons, and an early parallel to the
conspicuous comparison with visual art that takes place when Trim reads the sermon in
Tristram Shandy .
Throughout his letters, Sterne is very free in adapting the vocabulary of visual arts to
his descriptive needs; the concept of writing a "picture" frequently represents the
accumulation of verbal "strokes" (each a detail of the composition), and the resulting
description is often compared to the act of visual depiction by the narrator/artist. After
suggesting a detailed future scenario in which he and Eliza Draper are reunited and happy,
Sterne asks, "How do you like the History, of this couple, Eliza? . . . tis a rough Sketch-
but I could make it a pretty picture, as the outlines are just" ( Letters 359). Similarly,
when Sterne describes his mysterious venereal infection to Eliza, he adds that his
explanation has "taken me three Sittings— it ought to be a good picture— I'm more proud,
That it is a true one" ( Letters 330). In both instances, the visual lends credibility to
possibly far-fetched ideas by fleshing them out with an imagined reality. In one case,
pictorial "framing" provides a means of coyly hinting at his desire to realize a fantasy; in
the other, the parallel with pictorial creation is able to convey discreetly the difficulty
Sterne experiences in explaining his physical condition.
Sterne uses the descriptive analogy of the visual arts to help define character in a
general sense, as well. He suggests to an unnamed correspondent that "reason and
common sense tell me, that if the characters of past ages and men are to be drawn at all,
they are to be drawn like themselves ... and it is as much a piece of justice to the world,
and to virtue too, to do the one, as the other" ( Letters 88). In the same letter, he asks, "if
like the poor devil of a painter, we must conform to this pious canon, de mortuis. &c.
which I own has a spice of piety in the sound of it, and be obliged to paint both our angels
and our devils out of the same pot . . ." ( Letters 88-89). These instances of the broad
application of visual concepts prefigure (or parallel) the more complex and reflexive
application of the technique in Sterne's fiction.
There are several minor instances of visuality in Sterne's correspondence when a visual
element is a passing reference rather than a dominant analogy. Explicit metaphors make
subtle visual references ("we are often painted in divers colours . . ." [ Letters 403]), while
implicit metaphors refer to the visual more indirectly ("Like rocks but half discovered, we
were ill Judges how near we were to venture" [cited in Cash 357]); the latter are more
frequent and elude precise definition. 25 Another minor aspect of visual rhetoric is the use
of theatrical terminology, such as Sterne's relation to Eliza of his "systems of living":
"there wants only the Dramatis Pers onee for the performance— the play is wrote — the
Scenes are painted— & the Curtain ready to be drawn up— the whole Piece waits for thee,
my Eliza—" ( Letters 364). 26 In its many forms, discussion of the visual in Sterne's
correspondence attests to both its role in his personal life and its importance to how he
defines the world.
A sermon, with its need to convey a message to a congregation, almost seems to
demand a certain amount of imaginative visualization to be effective. Although Sterne's
sermons contain passages that describe a particularly pictorial scene and make other
references to the visual, however, there is reason to be cautious about attributing any
language in them directly to Sterne. In the mid-eighteenth century sermons, were, by their
very nature, usually highly derivative of both other sermons and Scripture; many parallel
passages have been found in other texts which Sterne apparently "borrowed" wholesale.
While some of Sterne's visuality in his sermons is worthy of analysis as apparently original
work, his use of particular visual techniques and expressions borrowed from other
sources — evidently because he felt they were effective rhetorically — deserves attention as
well. Significantly, Sterne apparently embellishes the work of others with his own visual
cues, a further testimony to his belief in the effectiveness of visuality.
The most common form of visuality in Sterne's sermons is the visual imperative, a
rhetorical technique which commands the reader/listener to share the writer/speaker's
vision. Sterne is certainly not unique in the use of the visual imperative; to an extent, it is
found both in Scripture and in sermons of the period. 28 However, by combining the
imperative with his ability to provide a highly pictorial description of scenes and people,
Sterne's technique of "writing" a picture often achieves a vividness more striking than the
work of his contemporary sermon writers; here, perhaps more than with any other aspect
of his sermon- writing, Sterne anticipates the fiction- writing of his later years. Sterne's use
of the visual imperative creates its strongest impression when repeated several times in a
single passage, as if each command to view were a single stroke toward the cumulative
image of a scene. A particularly pictorial passage occurs in the "Abuses of Conscience"
sermon, an almost verbatim version of which is read by Trim in Tristram Shandy ; with
brief, intense commands, Sterne urges the listener/reader to "See the melancholy wretch"
( Sermons 265.18-19), "Behold this helpless victim" (21-22), "Observe the last movement
of that horrid engine" (24-25), "Consider the nature of the posture in which he now lies
stretch'd" (25-26), "See how it keeps his weary soul hanging upon his trembling lips . . ."
(28-29), and "Behold the unhappy wretch" (30). 29 Using the repetition of forceful
language within the brief space of a paragraph, Sterne again and again directs the attention
of his audience with the use of vivid visual imagery, constructing the scene in the minds of
his audience one detail at a time. These details, intriguingly, seem to refer to aspects of
the physical ("trembling lips") or the emotional ("melancholy"); the combination of the
two within one passage appears to augment the impact of the verbal picture.
The visual imperative also occurs in brief passages, such as "Here then let us stop to
look back a moment" (Sermons 420.25), or "Let him go into the dwellings of the
unfortunate, into some mournful cottage. . . There let him behold the disconsolate
widow — sitting — steeped in tears" ( Sermons 54.22-25). 30 In these more isolated
instances, the technique serves more as an accent rather than as a primary means of
conveying a description.
Portrayals of both places and people in the Sermons frequently resound with a more
passive type of pictorialism. For instance, the visual end product of a picture or a painting
is directly named, as in "I see the picture of his departure" ( Sermons 187. 1 1), or the
process of depiction is described in visual terms, as in, "he will tell you, that his
imagination painted something before his eyes, the reality of which he has not yet attained
to" ( Sermons 8.24-26). The inclusion of this more subtle visuality embellishes the
common visual elements Sterne shares with other sermon writers with the distinct
language of painting and drawing.
In his sermons, Sterne often "draws" verbal descriptions of people with the language
of the visual. He calls the Devil's perception of Job "a bad picture, and done by a terrible
master, and yet we are always copying it" ( Sermons 165.24-25). Another instance alludes
to the primacy of the visual over the verbal; Sterne's depiction of Joseph's pity for his
brothers, poignantly expressed by Joseph bursting into tears, "furnishes us with so
beautiful a picture of a compassionate and forgiving temper, that I think no words can
heighten it" ( Sermons 1 19. 12-14). 33 Characteristics of people are described in terms of
the process of illustration, as well as its final product: Sterne feels that it is a great "piece
of justice to expose a vicious character, and paint it in its proper colours" ( Sermons
The hint of visual elements also serves to strengthen metaphors, as with Sterne's
warning against passing "a hard and ill-natured reflection, upon an undesigning action; to
invent, or which is equally bad, to propagate a vexatious report, without colour and
grounds" ( Sermons 107. 12-14). Visual metaphors are not as common in the Sermons as
the pictorial description of places and people, but they do augment the work's tendency
toward visuality. 35
In the Sermons . Sterne frequently adopts visual passages from the work of others;
perhaps more telling of his absorption with elements of visuality, however, is the insertion
of visual passages into texts he otherwise adopts verbatim. For instance, readers of
To conceive this, let any man look into his own heart, and observe in how different
a degree of detestation, numbers of actions stand there, though equally bad and vicious
in themselves: he will soon find that such of them, as strong inclination or custom has
prompted him to commit, are generally dressed out, and painted with all the false
beauties which a soft and flattering hand can give them . . . ( Sermons 37.3-9)
will find strong parallels with a passage in Jonathan Swift's sermon, "Difficulty," ("almost
certainly Sterne's source," observes New) in the Notes :
let any Man look into his own Heart, and observe in how different a Light, and under
what different Complexions any two Sins of equal Turpitude and Malignity do appear
to him, if he hath but a strong Inclination to the one, and none at all to the other. That
which he hath an Inclination to, is always dressed up in all the false Beauty that a fond
and busy Imagination can give it" (n. to 37.3-1 1).
Although Swift's reference to "false Beauty," in which a sin might be "dressed up in,"
itself has implications of the visual, Sterne's revision, which discusses the same sin
"dressed out, and painted with all the false beauties which a soft and flattering hand can
give them," embellishes the original passage with a distinctly painterly metaphor. This
type of modification (one of several in the Sermons ) further suggests the value placed by
Sterne on the rhetorical technique of visuality as a way of creating a more effective picture
of a scene, person, or thing, and thus increasing the impact of his presentation.
Visual elements that are either clearly adopted from other sermons or occur frequently
enough to be considered commonplace in contemporary sermon composition also play a
role in Sterne's sermons. For example, the adopted phrase, "eyes [or eye] of the world" is
repeated several times ( Sermons 159.14, 166.5, 245.11); indicating a kind of social
evaluation, the phrase also suggests the primacy of the visual as a means of judgment.
Other visually oriented expressions frequently used by others include "at first sight"
( Sermons 1 14. 10, 180. 13), and "look," "see," "view," and similar verbs to indicate
"consider" (a few examples include Sermons 14.13, 74.8, 284.5-7, and 322.8).
Sterne uses several other types of visual metaphor that are tangential to the pictorial in
his sermons. For instance, the three-dimensional form comes into play for metaphorical
purposes in his statement, "To judge rightly of our own worth, we should retire a little
from the world, to see all its pleasures and pains too, in their proper size and
dimensions" ( Sermons 183.24-26). 38 Theatrical terminology also has a similar minor role
in Sterne's visual discussion; he notes, for instance, "we who now tread the stage, must
shortly be summoned away" ( Sermons 290.2-3). 39
Even the idea of "appearance" occurs with unusual frequency and carries special
significance in Sterne's sermons, as in the warning that "outward appearances may, and
often have been counterfeited . . ." ( Sermons 125.2-3). Likewise, Sterne explains that,
regarding the pharisee's character, "If you looked no farther than the outward part of it,
you would think it made up of all goodness and perfection . . " (Sermons 58.7-8). The
ability of "appearance" to mask true value allows it to conceal positive traits, as well: to
the Jews, Christianity was "a religion whose appearance was not great and splendid, — but
looked thin and meagre . . ." ( Sermons 342.13-15). 40 The seeming dangers of
"appearances" that Sterne counsels against in Sermons vividly contrast with Yorick's
ability to use appearance effectively to make judgments in A Sentimental Journey , such as
his choosing a " desobligeant " by seeing what would hit his fancy "at first sight" (ASJ
76.7-77.9). Similarly, when looking for someone to direct him to the opera, Yorick writes
that he "cast with my eye into half a dozen shops as I came along in search of a face not
likely to be disordered by such an interruption; till at last, this hitting my fancy, I had
walked in" ( ASJ 161.8-10). Sterne the sermon- writer seems to caution his audience
against judging by the same standard that his fictional narrator, Yorick, thrives on and
through which he establishes that most fundamental of connections, sentimental
A Political Romance and Memoirs
The visual elements in the text of A Political Romance are fewer, and feature less
detail and cohesion, than in other works by Sterne. In "The Key," an absurd associative
relationship is suggested on the basis of visual resemblance: one member of the Club "was
positive the Breeches meant Gibraltar ; for, if you remember, Gentlemen, says he, tho'
possibly you don't, the Ichnography and Plan of that Town and Fortress, it exactly
resembles a Pair of Trunk-Hose, the two Promontories forming the two Slops, &c. &c. " 41
The visual provides a conveyance for metaphor, as well: a great "Variety of Personages,
Opinions, Transactions, and Truths, [were] found to lay hid under the dark Veil of its
Allegory . . ," 42
Sterne's brief Memoirs almost entirely lacks allegorical or metaphorical visuality,
perhaps because of the relative directness of its subject matter; in fact, its straightforward
story and even tone is often reminiscent of Sterne's relatively colorless business
correspondence. The Memoirs , however, does include an oft-cited personal detail relating
to the visual: during his twenty years at Sutton, Sterne relates, "Books, painting, fiddling,
and shooting were my amusements." 43 While this statement invites speculation about the
more exact role the visual arts played in Sterne's life, it is sufficient to note here the
obvious tie between his visual (and sometimes specifically painterly) language and his
occasional pastime. 44
A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy
Sterne uses very different types of visuality in A Sentimental Journey , and to very
different ends, than in his other works. In addition to direct references to painting, and the
use of vivid descriptive pictoralism (Brissenden suggests the scenes in the work have "the
fresh and limpid quality of water-colour sketches" ), the visual also plays a more
essential role as the primary mode of sentimental connection negotiated through Yorick's
observation of appearance and gesture. Time and again, pictorial elements in A
Sentimental Journey create a unique aura of communication with the reader, conveying
meaning with the language of the visual.
The descriptions in A Sentimental Journey that include direct references to painting are
few, but those few use visuality as a substantial and central component of description.
Initially depicting himself sitting at his desk and writing the monk's description, Yorick
conjures up the image of Lorenzo "before my eyes": 45 he had "one of those heads, which
Guido has often painted— mild, pale— penetrating, free from all common-place ideas of
fat contented ignorance looking downwards upon the earth — it look'd forwards; but
look'd, as if it look'd at something beyond this world" (ASJ 71.29-32). 46 Not only does
Sterne provide a picture of Yorick at work, but he also conveys a very specific idea of the
monk's appearance by using an actual artist's style as a model, and his use of this style
expresses a sense of the subject's spirituality. He goes on to explain that "the rest of his
[Lorenzo's] outline may be given in a few strokes" ( ASJ 72.36), reminding us that Sterne
himself is "painting" the description. In effect, Sterne paints Yorick who paints Lorenzo
in the style of Guido, and the presence of the devoted portrayer in the text frames and
enriches the portrait of the Monk.
In Sterne's description of the Captive, Yorick reveals an even stronger sense of visual
imagination as he "look'd through the twilight of his grated door to take his picture" ( ASJ
201.10-1 1); later, although his "heart began to bleed" (202.19), he is compelled "to go on
with another part of the portrait" (202. 19-20) of the victim. Sterne uses visuality here to
provide the detailed description necessary to inspire a deep sense of pity in a fashion
similar to the use of visual elements in the Sermons , while also conveying the emotional
distress felt by the narrator himself. Yorick' s evocation of the Captive is so powerful that
he cannot continue his description: "I burst into tears — I could not sustain the picture of
confinement which my fancy had drawn" (203.3 1-32). 47 The narrator's sympathetic
reaction to his visualization of the Captive's pathos is so profound that he is swept up in
the distress of his subject and cannot bear to continue his description.
Many scenes in A Sentimental Journey rely heavily on visual cues to describe character
without expressly mentioning visual art. Yorick describes his first sighting of the Patisser:
"I could not help looking for some time at him as I sat in the remise — the more I look'd at
him — his croix and his basket, the stronger they wove themselves into my brain — I got out
of the remise and went towards him" (ASJ 210.27-30). Yorick then details the elements
of a visual inventory: a "clean linen apron which fell below his knees" (210.3 1-32) and the
Patisser' s countenance bearing "a sedate look, something approaching to gravity"
(210.41-42). Yorick' s compelling visual attraction to the subject (he "could not help
looking" at the Patisser) spurs this review of visual characteristics, a technique which is
especially prominent in better-known episodes, such as "The Starling," "The Temptation,"
and, of course, "The Case of Delicacy." 48 The types of visual description in A Sentimental
Journey — both the conspicuously painterly and those scenes which evoke a strong sense
of the visual — can be seen as invitations from Sterne to illustrators of his work to depict
these particular scenes, invitations that, as subsequent editions of A Sentimental Journey
testify, have been accepted frequently and with a sense of active engagement on the part
of illustrators. 49
The visual is also manifested in the high value Yorick places on the appearance of
people and things to form his opinions of them. On one occasion, he explains that he
"remain' d at the gate of the hotel for some time, looking at every one who pass'd by, and
forming conjectures upon them ..." ( ASJ 239.5-7), demonstrating his recreational, and
perhaps slightly compulsive, interest in gauging individual character based on appearance.
Yorick' s pastime, however, hints at a sense of loneliness — he is merely a spectator, and his
attempts to bridge his isolation with visual contact (at least in these cases) fails. Yorick' s
separation from the world is also illustrated in his description of himself at his hotel
window in Paris: "I walked up gravely to the window in my dusty black coat, and looking
through the glass saw all the world in yellow, blue, and green, running at the ring of
pleasure" (ASJ 155.12-156.14); here he views a brilliantly colored reality from which he
feels spatially separated and chromatically distinct. The visual, then, can be a means of
initiating and continuing a connection between people — the basis of sentimentality — as
well as a means of emphasizing difference between them.
In A Sentimental Journey , the visual is often simultaneously the point of contact and
the point of decision. For example, Yorick achieves sentimental communion with the
Grisset through visual contact and determination: he "had given a cast with my eye into
half a dozen shops as I came along in search of a face not likely to be disordered by such
an interruption [a request for directions]; till at last, this hitting my fancy, I had walked in"
( ASJ 161.8-10). 50 Elsewhere, Yorick reads detailed meaning into appearance, although
with less certainty: "I fancied it [the lady's face] wore the characters of a widow'd look,
and in that state of its declension, which had passed the two first paroxysms of sorrow,
and was quietly beginning to reconcile itself to its loss — but a thousand other distresses
might have traced the same lines" ( ASJ 94.33-37). 51 To Yorick, faces are visual
documents that reveal a sense of individual character and history, and they almost always
invite him to further conversation, or, at least — owing to his belief in a shared feeling
among all humanity ("are we not all relations?" [ ASJ 191.92-93]) — the desire for it.
Closely related to Yorick' s dependence on appearance is his frequent reception and
interpretation of the unspoken language of gesture. In the chapter appropriately titled
"The Translation," Yorick describes this language and his understanding of it in some
detail, as he "translates" the old French officer's gesture of removing his spectacles:
Translate this into any civilized language in the world — the sense is this:
"Here's a poor stranger come in to the box — he seems as if he knew no body; and
is never likely, was he to be seven years in Paris, if every man he comes near keeps his
spectacles upon his nose — 'tis shutting the door of conversation absolutely in his
face — and using him worse than a German."
The French officer might as well have said it all aloud . . . ( ASJ 171.17-24)
The visual gesture is expanded, through Yorick' s interpretive facility, into a coherent and
relevant verbal statement of sentimental community. He explains, "There is not a secret so
aiding to the progress of sociality, as to get master of this short hand , and be quick in
rendering the several turns of looks and limbs, with all their inflections and delineations,
into plain words" ( ASJ 171 .28-3 1). Yorick adds that when he walks "the streets of
London, I go translating all the way" ( ASJ 171.32-33). This concept of the physical
expression of an unspoken language also appears in "The Gloves" ( ASJ 168.9-169.26), as
Yorick and the Grisset are simultaneously engaged in a dual conversation, one mundane,
the other sentimental (and erotic); he verbally asks for directions, she responds, but a
significant amount of bodily communication passes between them, as well. Yorick' s
reflection on the Grisset' s physical expression summarizes the obvious importance Sterne
attributed to its power of communication throughout his work: "there are certain
combined looks of simple subtlety — where whim, and sense, and seriousness, and
nonsense, are so blended, that all the languages of Babel set loose together could not
express them" (ASJ 168.9-12). 52
Vocabulary borrowed from the visual arts creates and augments metaphors throughout
A Sentimental Journey . For instance, the "learned Smelfungus" set out in his travels
"with the spleen and jaundice, and every object he pass'd by was discoloured or distorted"
(ASJ 1 16.28-3 1). 53 More complex metaphors rely directly on painterly concepts for their
impact, such as Yorick's declaration that "I conceive every fair being as a temple, and
would rather enter in, and see the original drawings and loose sketches hung up in it, than
the transfiguration of Raphael itself (ASJ 218.69-219.72). Not only are people compared
to physical structures, but their inner identities are imaginatively idiosyncratic visual
creations compared to "original drawings and loose sketches."
Yorick also affirms the primacy of the visual with statements that hint at psychological
or philosophical links with sense perception. He notes: "Now a colloquy of five minutes
... is worth one of as many ages, with your faces turned towards the street: in the latter
case, 'tis drawn from the objects and occurrences without — when your eyes are fixed
upon a dead blank — you draw purely from yourselves" ( ASJ 90.32-36). Here Yorick
asserts what had become a Lockean commonplace: direct sensations — here visual
stimuli — are our primary source of ideas; Sterne may, of course, be reducing the
commonplace to a joke, but the statement is in keeping with the overall value Yorick
places on the visual, both explicitly and implicitly, suggesting he is a creature enormously
dependent on his sense of sight for establishing definitions of himself and others, perhaps
operating under a notion ( pace Descartes) of video ergo sum .
The unique emphasis on the visual in A Sentimental Journey is further indicated by the
presence of a mandatory graphic in its pages. An illustration of Yorick's family crest,
complete with a starling, seems to have appeared in every subsequent edition of the work,
albeit occasionally replaced by an interpretive rendition ( ASJ 205). Sterne's interest in
offering his readers a "picture" in his work reaches a literal reality with this artwork, in
that the crest is itself a visual representation of Yorick (and even more of Sterne).
Sterne's discussion of actual artwork in A Sentimental Journey is limited. In addition
to the reference to the painter Guido, Yorick twice mentions a portrait of Eliza, which she
"had tied in a black ribband" around his neck (ASJ 147.43). This portrait, the fictional
counterpart to the one alluded to repeatedly and at length in Sterne's Letters , also
functions as a kind of icon for Yorick, who "blush'd as I look'd at it — I would have given
the world to have kiss'd it, — but was ashamed" ( ASJ 147.44-45). In many ways, Eliza is
a real companion to Yorick in A Sentimental Journey , a living being projected from a
portrait, echoing the role the portrait plays in Sterne's correspondence. 5 The value
placed by Yorick on this miniature resembles the story of Pygmalion, where love has the
ability to animate the inanimate; the life the portrait assumes through Yorick' s devotion
also parallels the many characters that come to life in Sterne's works through his
affectionate visual descriptions.
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
Sterne's visuality assumes its most complex, lengthy, and reflexive forms in Tristram
Shandy . Many extended descriptions of characters explicitly evoke painting as a parallel
to verbal portrayal; the most commented-upon examples feature the narrator/painter
reflecting on his own composition. Less obvious instances include numerous other
episodes that contain lengthy pictorial descriptions without specifically citing the visual
arts. Sterne also uses visual imagery as a prompt to inspire a character's mental chain of
association, and, in a related usage, defines the conceptual by literally embodying abstract
entities in physical forms, often with comic effect. Less complex forms of visual rhetoric
that have appeared in Sterne's other works also appear in Tristram Shandy : brief, but
distinct, metaphorical applications, specific references to painting, the focus on appearance
and gesture as conveyors of meaning (which Paulson calls "unprecedented" ), non-
pictorial visuality, and a diluted form of the visual imperative. In addition, the inclusion of
several extraordinary typographic and graphic treatments further affirms Sterne's interest
in the manipulation of visual elements.
Perhaps the most unusual, and intriguing, instance of visuality in Sterne's published
work is his conscious paralleling of the construction of visual pictures with the
construction of verbal ones in Tristram Shandy . While the deliberate "painting" of a
picture with words appears in other eighteenth-century texts before Sterne, perhaps most
notably in the novels of Fielding and Smollett, the obsessive narrator of Tristram Shandy
not only paints a picture with words, but as he paints he often reflexively critiques his
technique and his verbal illustration in the process — and then comments on his own
commentary. Perhaps the best-known, and most carefully wrought, instance of Tristram's
self-conscious "writing" of a picture is the scene of Trim reading the sermon mentioned
earlier, as well as the description of the "out-lines of Dr. Slop's figure" (TS II.9. 121.6)
that precedes it. These verbal sketches conspicuously draw from both Hogarth's
theoretical Analysis of Beauty (1753) and his graphic style of illustrating character, while
reflexively satirizing his technique. The literary renown of Sterne's descriptions was
sealed with Hogarth's uncannily sympathetic drawings for the book, which, as mentioned
earlier, perpetuate the circle of reflexivity.
Among several other instances of detailed and reflexive visual depictions of characters
is Tristram's description of the "very handsome" (TS VI.9.588.18) inn-keeper's daughter:
"Janatone . . . stands so well for a drawing may I never draw more, or rather may I
draw like a draught-horse, by main strength all the days of my life, — if I do not draw her
in all her proportions, and with as determin'd a pencil, as if I had her in the wettest
drapery. " (IS VI.9.589.10-15). 58 As in the text that describes Trim reading the
sermon, Sterne goes beyond simply suggesting a visual portrayal by including an ironic
reference to his act of depiction ("drawing . . . with as determin'd a pencil") which casts
him as an artist of images, and not of words. However, rather than making the physical
description or himself the focal point of this passage, Tristram concludes with a pointed
message of carpediem : "he who measures thee, Janatone, must do it now — thou earnest
the principles of change within thy frame" (TS VI. 9. 589. 23-25). As a subject, Janatone's
mutability serves as a reminder of the changes inevitable in all human existence, but as an
object, she becomes a symbol of the artistic immortality for which Sterne himself yearned.
Later in the same passage, in a similar spirit of both evoking and avoiding a physical
description, Tristram seems to acknowledge that the visual depiction of his aunt Dinah
(and by extension, Janatone) demands a certain mastery he does not possess: he would
scarce answer for Dinah's picture "were it but painted by Reynolds" (TS VI.9.590.6). 59
As a result, he abandons his attempt at verbal depiction of the visual with self-conscious
anxiety, stating that
if I go on with my drawing, after naming that son of Apollo, I'll be shot
So you must e'en be content with the original. ( TS VI. 9. 590. 7-9)
Here Sterne seems to transcend the need for an exacting, painterly description,
surrendering, perhaps, to either Tristram's forgetfulness or to his own inability objectively
to depict his subject, the latter possibly the result of his realization of the inadequacy of
words to accurately describe a visual image, the fleeting nature of beauty, or even the
distractions of desire.
Acknowledging the vital role the visual plays in Tristram Shandy , Brissenden contends
that Sterne would not write a highly pictorial passage like Trim's sermon-reading simply
to convey a visual idea of the scene, but that he, "though obviously making some attempt
to achieve through the medium of language something analogous to what the artist attains
through the use of paint, is mainly interested in satirizing and parodying some of the
conventional aesthetic theories of the day" (95). This plausibly utilitarian rationale for
Sterne's use of the visual, however, effectively devalues the visual impact of this passage
as a humorous gesture rather than an end in itself, and also overlooks the persistence of
visual elements throughout Sterne's work, which can accentuate sentimental, as well as
comic, moments in the text. 60
Visual elements that do not make explicit mention of the visual arts are instrumental in
descriptions of characters and locations in Tristram Shandy , as well. In these cases,
visuality either is asserted for a moment — the focus on a gesture or object — or is
continuous, depicting several elements over the course of a scene with visual acuity.
These intensely visual passages seem to freeze the moment into a verbally described
picture, with either comic or sentimental effect, or a particularly Sternean combination of
the two. For instance, after Walter is informed that Tristram's nose has been crushed "as
flat as a pancake to his face" (TS III. 27. 253. 10), he retires to his room and throws
"himself prostrate across his bed in the wildest disorder imaginable, but at the same time,
in the most lamentable attitude of a man borne down with sorrows, that ever the eye of
pity dropp'd a tear for" (TS 111.29.254. 24-255. 4). Indeed, the reader's imaginative eye is
particularly called into play in the following description:
The palm of his right hand, as he fell upon the bed, receiving his forehead, and
covering the greatest part of both his eyes, gently sunk down with his head (his elbow
giving way backwards) till his nose touch' d the quilt; his left arm hung insensible
over the side of the bed, his knuckles reclining upon the handle of the chamber pot,
which peep'd out beyond the valance, — his right leg (his left being drawn up towards
his body) hung half over the side of the bed, the edge of it pressing upon his shin-
bone. — He felt it not. A fix'd, inflexible sorrow took possession of every line of his
face. (TS III 29 255.4-14)
Here the meticulous attention to detail — the incidental position of Walter's elbow, his
knuckles touching the nearly concealed chamber pot, the careful placement of his legs —
combines to create a precise image of Walter's pose, each aspect a verbal "stroke" which
accumulates toward a picture. The intense attention paid to pictorial minutiae, even in the
absence of explicit metaphor, emphasizes Sterne's belief in the primacy of the visual in
description, and especially in its effectiveness in pathetic scenes — even if the pathos is
tempered, in Sternean fashion, with humor, indicated by the presence of the chamber pot
While every part of Walter's portrait (except, perhaps, the chamber pot) emphasizes
his grief, Sterne uses a similar technique of accumulating visual details to stress the comic
aspect of Trim's operation of the "artillery" he improvised for Toby's bowling green.
Here Sterne's precise physical description of Trim — the "ivory pipe, appertaining to the
battery on the right, betwixt the finger and thumb of his right hand, — and the ebony pipe
tipp'd with silver, which appertained to the battery on the left, betwixt the finger and
thumb of the other" (IS VI. 27. 548. 6- 10) — not only creates a humorously credible image
of an improbable moment, but the very meticulousness of the individual "strokes" of
physical description makes the portrait all the more humorous. These last two scenes
reveal the similarity in Sterne's visual techniques toward two different ends: just as each
detail of Walter on the bed augments the pathos in one instance, the visualization of each
detail of Trim's invention heightens comedy in the other. 61
Visual detail may also prompt a character's chain of association, connecting seemingly
unrelated ideas, often with an emphasis on the potentially absurd tendencies of associative
relationships. For instance, Sterne pictures Walter "taking his wig from off his head with
his right hand, and with his left pulling out a striped India handkerchief from his right coat
pocket, in order to rub his head" (TS III.2. 187.3-6). Although Brissenden observes that
these moments have a "strange, hallucinatory vividness and clarity" (94), the moment also
elucidates Toby's surprising chain of association that conflates the "transverse zig-
zaggery" (TS III. 3. 189.4) of Walter's movements with the fortifications ofNamur and
consequently with his wound. The trumpeter's wife in Slawkenbergius's Tale displays a
similar (and equally revealing) type of visual association as she and her husband attempt to
describe the stranger's outstanding feature:
What a nose! 'tis as long, said the trumpeter's wife, as a trumpet.
And of the same mettle, said the trumpeter, as you hear by its sneezing.
— 'Tis as soft as a flute, said she.
— 'Tis brass, said the trumpeter.
— 'Tis a pudding's end — said his wife.
I tell thee again, said the trumpeter, 'tis a brazen nose.
I'll know the bottom of it, said the trumpeter's wife, for I will touch it with my
finger before I sleep. (TS IV.S.T.293.1-10)
In seeking physical parallels to describe the stranger's nose, the trumpeter's wife inevitably
makes associations with phallic objects, which, in turn, implicitly lead the reader to
"penis"; the game of bawdy association is crowned with her proclamation that "I shall
touch it with my finger before I sleep." In both these instances of Toby's zig-zaggery and
the trumpeter's wife, the characters are driven by their visually inspired hobbyhorses into
their various trains of association, resulting in seemingly unlikely scenarios of
associativeness as a window into the eccentric, yet recognizable, workings of the human
Visual moments in the text also serve as anchors for narrative digression; the verbal
picture is a vivid and concrete moment to which the narrator can repeatedly return. As
Toby and Walter are depicted going down the stairs, Tristram intervenes, asking, "Is it not
a shame to make two chapters of what passed in going down one pair of stairs? for we
are got no farther yet than to the first landing, and there are fifteen more steps down to the
bottom" (TS IV. 10.336. 13-16). This picture becomes a departure point for Tristram's
"chapter upon chapters," which, in turn, leads again to the brothers Shandy on the stairs
(TS IV. 1 1-12.339. 1-340.21); Tristram finally offers his readers a crown "to get my father
and my uncle Tobv off the stairs, and to put them to bed" (IS IV. 13.341 . 1-2). Significant
in each of these instances is the use of visualized action to embellish the recurrent scene on
the stairs: Toby "hitting my father a desperate blow souse upon his shin-bone" (TS
IV.9.335.7-8) with his crutch, or the action of Walter "drawing his leg back, and turning
to my uncle Tobv " (IV. 1 1 .339.3-4). Similarly, Tristram also repeats the image of Toby
three times over thirty pages in the process of taking the pipe from his mouth and striking
out the ashes (T_S 184.108.40.206-19, 220.127.116.11-25, and II.6.1 14.4-7). In typically self-
reflexive fashion, Tristram later discusses his use of this technique as he comments on the
difficulty of controlling his narrative: " — I have left my father lying across his bed, and my
uncle Toby in his old fringed chair, sitting beside him, and promised I would go back to
them in half an hour, and five and thirty minutes are laps'd already" (TS 111.38. 278. 13-16).
Visual moments may be significant in other ways, as well. The detail of Trim's motley
Montero-cap (described as "scarlet," "furr," and "light blue, slightly embroidered" [TS
VI.24. 542. 16-19]) is a consistent element in both Trim's tragic (as his brother Tom's
bequest) and comic moments (as part of his improvised uniform under the command of
uncle Toby). Both of these descriptions also abound in visual cues which make elements
of the story vivid, without the specific naming of painting or drawing, but which
nevertheless compel the eye of the reader's imagination.
Metaphors which use visual elements in Tristram Shandy add to the work's rhetorical
effectiveness and supplement the pervasive motif of visuality. Often the ideas of light and
dark play parts in these metaphors: Walter, for instance, "look'd upon every thing in a
light very different from all mankind" (TS III. 12.215. 17-18), and Tristram proclaims that
"we live amongst riddles and mysteries — the most obvious things, which come in our way,
have dark sides, which the quickest sight cannot penetrate into" (TS IV. 17.350. 11-13).
Metaphors may be polychromatic, as well, as Tristram notes of his "spirits": "in no one
moment of my existence, that I remember, have ye once deserted me, or tinged the objects
which came in my way, either with sable, or with a sickly green" (TS VII. 1.575. 16-18).
Even varieties of experience can assume visual parallels; the Shandys' trip to the Continent
"appears of so different a shade and tint from any tour of Europe, which was ever
executed" (IS VII.27.618.6-7). 63
In certain instances, the visual imperative overtly invites the reader to share in the
narrative vision. "Now if you will venture to go along with me, and look down into the
bottom of this matter . . ." (IS II.2.98.27-99. 1-3) and "let us leave him then in the vortex
of his element . . ." (TS VII.21. 610.8-9) both echo, if more weakly, the strongly engaging
language (some of it originally cribbed from other sources) the pastor Sterne unleashed on
his congregation. Tristram's imperatives, by contrast, are usually less commanding and
more insinuative— like the "cursed" (T_S VII.43. 650.2) slit in Nanette's petticoat, from
which Tristram cannot take his eyes. 64
Perhaps the most frequent appearance of the visual in Tristram Shandy , however, is
Sterne's use of the concrete image for the common purpose of incarnating abstract ideas.
One relatively well-known passage compares days and hours to rubies and "light clouds of
a windy day" (IS IX.8.754.20-21). Tristram cites Prignitz in stating "that the excellency
of the nose is in a direct arithmetical proportion to the excellency of the wearer's fancy"
(and hints at a pun in the process) (IS 111.38.275.22-24), and the midwife's fame is
represented as a "circle of importance" (IS 18.104.22.168) of "about four or five miles" (IS
1. 13.39.23-24). The hobbyhorse itself is a playful, yet accurate, visualization of personal
obsessions, with specific physical features of "gait and figure" (T_S 22.214.171.124) that bear a
man's "fancy." Broader applications of this metaphor include Toby's bowling green,
which is both a literal miniaturization of European fortifications (TS VI.23. 539. 14-17) and
a figural (and, perhaps, symbolic) projection of Toby's obsession, and Tristram's journey
to France, a concrete representation of a flight from sickness and death. 65
The physical body conveys meaning in Tristram Shandy in the form of gesture and
countenance, but usually does not express the language of sentimental bonding prominent
in A Sentimental Journey : rather, the body becomes the point of transmission for a variety
of subtle messages, most frequently comic. Sterne seems to be presciently parodying
Yorick's hobby of physiognomy in A Sentimental Journey when, during his conversation
with the ass, Tristram admits that "never is my imagination so busy as in framing his
responses from the etchings of his countenance" (TS VII.32. 630.14-15). During
Tristram's less self-reflexive moments, however, physical appearance can also project
internal values in a fashion similar to that in A Sentimental Journey : e.g., Toby's
"benignity of . . . heart interpreted every motion of the body in the kindest sense the
motion would admit of (IS III.5. 192. 12-14). Overall, the frequent attention paid to
gesture, attitude, and appearance in Tristram Shandv suggests that in contrast with the
text's verbal nature, the visual, like the visual nature of this text, remains a vital way of
communicating what words cannot by themselves properly express. 66
The visual is not only conveyed by the pictorial; references to dramatic visualization,
mechanical structures, webs, and labyrinths all play roles in description and metaphor.
Playing the stage manager, Tristram begs "the reader will assist me here, to wheel off my
uncle Toby's ordnance behind the scenes, to remove his sentry-box, and clear the
theatre, if possible , of horn-works and half moons" (TS VI.29. 549. 16-19), thus using the
theatrical motif self-consciously to envision and manipulate a visual moment. 67 The
mechanical appears as an actual device, such as Lippius's clock (TS VII.30.625.19-
626.20), or as an allegory, such as the smoak-jack, which is compared to Toby's
associative mind (IS III. 19-20.225. 1 1-226. 16). 68 Far more infrequent are instances of
images of webs and mazes, which provide additional variations on three-dimensional
Sterne's idea of the visual in Tristram Shandy also extends beyond verbal description
to the inclusion of special typography (Old English typefaces, Greek characters, pointing
hands, and a struck-through word, as well as lines full of dashes, italics, and asterisks),
pages that are black, blank, and marbled, and graphic representations of several digressive
plot lines, and Trim's gesture with his walking stick. All of these incidents of graphics that
are mandatory elements in the text extend beyond an author's typically verbal expression,
and, to varying degrees, are reliant on a more basic and particularly visual sense than
words to be "read" on any given page. 70
Beyond his verbal and graphic visualizations, Sterne demonstrates his appreciation for
the visual arts with several references to specific artists. Walter's "whole attitude" is
described as "easy — natural — unforced: Reynolds himself, as great and gracefully as he
paints, might have painted him as he sat" (T_S III.2. 188.9-1 1). Sterne, referring to his own
book as a "grand picture" (TS III. 12.214. 1), evokes the achievements of great painters for
comic comparison: "there is nothing of the colouring of Titian . the expression of
Rubens , — the grace of Raphael . the purity of Dominichino . — the corregiescity of
Corregio — the learning of Poussin — the airs of Guido — the taste of the Carrachi 's— or
the grand contour of Angelo" (T_S III. 12.214.4-8). In an absurd gesture, Sterne attempts
to define his "picture" by the virtuosity it lacks, nearly obscuring the fact that it is not a
"picture" at all, but a written text. In addition, Sterne's comically encyclopedic
knowledge of artists and their particular talents reveals another side of his visual
perspective, not only as a writer who carefully incorporates visual elements into his work,
but as a self-mocking connoisseur of paintings; he may be parodying the "cant of critics,"
but he has read their books and knows their conclusions.
The abundance and sophistication of Sterne's references to the visual arts and the
visual metaphors throughout his written works suggest his deep personal interest in
graphic depiction, which sketchy biographical information implies rather than confirms.
More significant to this investigation, however, is the enormous value Sterne placed on
visuality as a means of expressing characters, places, and ideas; this technique will play a
vital role in determining the actual visual response to his texts by illustrators in the 250
years since their initial publication. Through their work, these illustrators will express
different readings of scenes, opening up new avenues to understanding Sterne's texts;
after reviewing the abundant previous critical discussion of Sterne's visuality, I will
explore these pictorial perspectives as products of a combination of artistic vision on the
part of the illustrators, the influence of contemporary cultural attitudes, and, of course, the
1 . "Let it suffice to affirm, that of all the senses, the eye . . . has the quickest
commerce with the soul." ( The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy. Gentleman , two
volumes, ed. Melvyn New and Joan New [Gainesville, FL: U. Press of Florida, 1978],
V. 6. 43 2. 4-7. Citations will be to the original volumes and chapters, and the page and line
numbers of the Florida text will hereafter be cited parenthetically in the text.)
2. For a more complete account of Sterne's London visit, see Arthur H. Cash,
Laurence Sterne: The Later Years (1986; London: Routledge, 1992), 1-53, and William
V. Holtz, "Pictures for Parson Yorick: Laurence Sterne's London Visit of 1760,"
Eighteenth-Century Studies 1 (1967): 169-84. In Hogarth: Art and Politics 1750-1764
(New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers U. Press, 1993), 276-84, Ronald Paulson relates the
encounter in the context of the artist's life.
3. Letters of Laurence Sterne , ed. Lewis Perry Curtis (1933; Oxford: Clarendon,
1965), 99. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.
4. R. F. Brissenden, "Sterne and Painting" in Of Books and Humankind: Essays and
Poems Presented to Bonamy Dobree . ed. John Butt, J. M. Cameron, D. W. Jefferson, and
Robin Skelton (London: Routledge, 1964), 95. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.
5. William V. Holtz, Image and Immortality: A Study of "Tristram Shandy"
(Providence, RI: Brown U. Press, 1970), 20. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.
6. In "Hogarth as Illustrator" ( Art in America 36 : 198), Robert E. Moore
notes that the artist "carried out the directions faithfully, but though the group is well
composed, he has apparently taken little delight in the task; and in the figure of one
listener, Dr. Slop, he has descended to caricature." This comment is at odds with Sterne's
own description (possibly a prescient hint to Hogarth), however, that Dr. Slop "may as
certainly be caracatur'd, and convey'd to the mind by three strokes as three hundred" (TS
7. Ronald Paulson, Hogarth: Art and Politics . 279. Paulson notes that Sterne was
possibly satirizing Hogarth in his discussion of smoke jacks and wigs (TS III. 19. 191-92,
III. 20. 202), adding that he "would not put it past the opportunist Sterne to have included
satire on Hogarth as a nod toward Reynolds; but his ethos was closer to Hogarth's" (282).
Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.
8. Jenny Uglow, Hogarth: A Life and a World (London: Faber and Faber, 1997), 623.
9. Melvyn New, "William Hogarth and John Baldessari: Ornamenting Sterne's
Tristram Shandv ." Word & Image 2:2 (1995V 183.
10. New 192.
1 1 . Catherine Gordon, '"More Than One Handle' : The Development of Sterne
Illustration, 1760-1820," Words: Wai-te-Ata Studies in Literature 4 (Wellington: Wai-te-
Ata, 1974), 48.
12. Gordon 48.
13. Paulson 277.
14. Numerous other scenes in Tristram Shandv similarly "invite" illustration, as well;
see 47 n. 61.
15. Of course, Sterne neither invented the pictorial construction of verbal
descriptions, nor was he the only writer who reflected on this visual method of writing.
Classical comments on this technique that had become cliches in the eighteenth century
include Horace's observation in Ars Poetica of " Ut pictura. poesis " ("as with a picture, so
a poem," seemingly intended as a passing comment about the placement of figures and
critical perspective, but by the eighteenth century universalized beyond its original
context) (Horace [Quintus Horatii Flacci], Satirae. Epistolae. Ars Poetica [London:
Lockwood, 1872] 95:361), and Simonides's comment that "xf|V p,ev Cooypaduav
:rotr|oiv oio)7T(boav rcpooayopeuei, xr\v 6e Trovnoiv ((oypcKjnav AaAoOoav"
("painting is silent poetry, and poetry a speaking picture" in Greek Lyric HI: Stesichorus,
Ibycus, Simonides. and Others , ed. David A. Campbell, Loeb Classical Library
[Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard U. Press, 1991], 362:346f).
Holtz points out that "by Sterne's day 'literary pictorialism' constituted a complex but
thoroughly established tradition." Citing just a few examples, Holtz notes that Pope finds
the tenth book of the Iliad praiseworthy for "the Liveliness of its Paintings," Fielding
explains "his theory of the comic novel with terms drawn from painting," and Smollett
describes the novel as a "large, diffused picture, comprehending the characters of life,
disposed in different groups, and exhibited in various attitudes" (14).
For a detailed history of literary pictorialism, see Jean H. Hagstrum, The Sister Arts:
The Tradition of Literary Pictorialism and English Poetry from Dryden to Gray (1958;
Chicago and London: U. of Chicago Press, 1987). Useful insights of the text-image
dynamic can be found in the work of W. J. T. Mitchell, especially Iconology: Image. Text.
Ideology (1986; Chicago and London: U. of Chicago Press, 1987).
16. Croft had evidently lent the pictures to Sterne so that he could have copies made
for himself; the delay was due to Sterne's lending them to a lady friend. See Letters 128.
17. After Sterne's death, Lydia Sterne and the publisher Becket discussed printing a
six- volume edition of Tristram Shandy . A family friend and political celebrity, John
Wilkes, suggested to Lydia that she draw four illustrations to serve as frontispieces for the
edition to complement the two by Hogarth, and she seems to have warmed to the idea.
For better or worse, however, nothing ever came of the project. See Cash 348.
18. The phenomenon of an individual's appearance affecting the viewer's mood
occurs elsewhere in Sterne's work; in A Sentimental Journey , for instance, Le Fleur is
described as having a "passport in his very looks" (ASJ 149.12-13), a characteristic that
encourages an amiable reaction in others.
19. Curtis notes that the portrait referred to here is "possibly the water-colour by
Carmontelle [see below], though more likely a lost portrait executed for Foley" ( Letters
232 n. 6), and cites an earlier letter that appears to refer to the same portrait: "I believe I
shall beg leave to get a copy of my own [picture] from yours, when I come in propria
persona " ( Letters 202). Sterne also mentions a portrait of himself in a letter to Thomas
Becket: "M Toilet . . . will give you two Snuff Boxes — they are of Value — in one is my
Portrait, don[e] here . . ." ( Letters 167).
Of another portrait of himself, Sterne writes to David Garrick: "The Duke of Orleans
has suffered my portrait to be added to the number of some odd men in his collection; and
a gentleman who lives with him has taken it most expressively, at full length — I purpose to
obtain an etching of it, and to send it you" ( Letters 157-58). Curtis identifies the artist as
Louis Carogis and notes that "the lively sketch in water-colour is to-day in the Musee
Conde at Chantilly" ( Letters 159 n. 9).
In addition, mention of another type of portrait — a caricature — appears in his letters:
"The 2 Pictures of the Mountebank & his Macaroni — is in a Lady's hands, who upon
seeing 'em, — most cavallierly declared She would never part with them" ( Letters . 148).
For more detailed documentation of the portraits of Sterne, see Arthur H. Cash, The Early
and Middle Years (London: Methuen, 1975), 299-316.
Last, a three-dimensional representation of Sterne's work is discussed in a letter to Dr.
John Eustace, who sent a gnarled walking stick to Sterne, calling it "a piece of shandean
statuary" ( Letters 404). Sterne responds, "Your walking stick is in no sense more
shandaic than in that of its having more handles than one ..." ( Letters 411), possibly
referring to a general concept of multiple meanings, such as in Walter Shandy's
proposition that "every thing in this earthly world . . . has two handles" (TS II. 7. 1 18. 12-
13), or, alternatively, to Tristram's proclamation that "by seizing every handle, of what
size or shape soever, which chance held out to me in this journey — I turned my plain into
a city" (IS VII.43. 648. 18-20).
20. Sterne apparently refers to this portrait directly in A Sentimental Journey ;
however, as Cash points out, the picture was probably mounted in his snuffbox, not in a
pendant (275). Sterne mentions the portrait in reference to A Sentimental Journey twice
in his letters. In the 17 June entry in the Journal he writes: "I have brought / name Eliza !
and Picture into my work — where they will remain — when You & I are at rest for ever"
( Letters 358). In the 13 June entry, Sterne notes that he has "a present of a portrait,
(which by the by, I have immortalized in my Sentimental Journey)" upon which he places a
great value ( Letters 357).
Other passages in Sterne's correspondence further reinforce the importance of Eliza
Draper's portrait to him. The 3 1 July entry to the Journal notes: "am tired to death with
the hurrying pleasures of these races — I want still & silent ones — so return home to
morrow, in search of them — I shall find them as I sit contemplating over thy passive
picture . . ." ( Letters 384). For a similar instance of the portrait as a point of
contemplation, see also Journal , 27 July ( Letters 382); both passages imply the spiritual
value Sterne assigned to Eliza's images. In a letter to Eliza, Sterne responds to a similar
gesture of iconization on her part: "And so thou hast fixed thy Bramin's portrait over thy
writing-desk; and will consult it in all doubts and difficulties. — Grateful and good girl!
Yorick smiles contentedly over all thou dost . . ." ( Letters 305).
21. For additional examples of the portrait as an admired proxy companion, see
Letters 312 and 339.
22. A caricature portrait of a group of men including Sterne painted by John Hamilton
Mortimer in the late 1760s portrays the writer pulling open his shirt to display a heart-
shaped locket (Cash 365; see fig. 1-3). Besides possibly visually suggesting that Sterne is
"baring his heart," a relevant metaphor for his tendency toward the expression of
sentiment in his writing, Mortimer's depiction seems to refer directly to the public
obsession with the portrait evident in Sterne's letters. Cash notes that "Mortimer invented
the locket: Sterne had the picture mounted in a snuffbox" (275; see also Letters 388:
"however I will enrich my gold Box, with her [Eliza's] picture"). Sterne does proclaim his
intention of mounting the portrait in a locket, however: "I verily think my Eliza I shall get
this Picture set, so as to wear it, as I first proposed — ab l my neck — I do not like the place
tis in — it shall be nearer my heart — Thou art ever in its centre" ( Letters 379-80).
23. Howard Anderson, "Sterne's Letters: Consciousness and Sympathy" in The
Familiar Letter in the Eighteenth Century , ed. Howard Anderson, Philip B. Daghlian, and
Irvin Ehrenpreis (Lawrence, KS: U. of Kansas Press, 1966), 137. Anderson recognizes
the visual as an important part of this rhetorical strategy, noting that the "inclusion of
gesture and situation makes the reader see Sterne working and gives to the letter an
element invariably present, if unnoticed, in conversation" (142). (A rare actual
manifestation of this verbal implication, the visual evocation of the writer at his desk,
actually occurs in Tristram Shandy [IX. 1 .737.2-7].)
24. In a similar personalized use of visual language, Sterne writes to Catherine
Fourmantel: "I shall be out of humour with You, & besides will not paint your Picture in
black which best becomes You, unless you accept of a few Bottles of Calcavillo . . ."
( Letters 81). In a letter apparently sent to both Eliza Draper as well as an unnamed
countess, Sterne writes, "I can paint thee blessed Spirit all-generous and kind as hers I
write to. . ." (Letters 361).
In Sterne's correspondence, as in his fiction, words are recognized to have the ability
to generate a "picture." To Eliza Draper, he claims his declarations of affection will
provide "a better Picture of me, than Cusway Could do for You" ( Letters 356; Curtis
notes that Richard Cosway was the likely painter of the portrait of Eliza in Sterne's
possession, 359 n. 3 and 3 14 n. 2). Sterne describes Tristram Shandy to David Garrick as
"a picture of myself, & so far may bid the fairer for being an Original" ( Letters 87).
Sterne was by no means alone in the eighteenth-century in using this technique of
"writing" a picture. Henry Fielding and Tobias Smollett are among the prose writers in
this period who emphasize visual elements in their descriptions.
25. Implicit visual metaphors, which make only passing, and sometimes vague,
reference to visual elements, are difficult to precisely define, but such hints of the visual
are widespread throughout Sterne's texts. In one more obvious instance, Sterne writes to
Eliza: "I have not had power, or the heart, to aim at enlivening any one of them [his letters
to her], with a single stroke of wit or humour ... I hope, too, you will perceive loose
touches of an honest heart, in every one of them" ( Letters 316). The use of the words
"strokes" and "touches" hints at parallels in the visual arts without making an explicit
connection. See also "strokes" in Letters 307.
26. For another dramatic metaphor, cf Letters 58.
27. Regarding the eighteenth-century practice of sermon composition, see Melvyn
New's Introduction in Notes to the Sermons (Gainesville, FL: U. Press of Florida, 1996),
especially 21-27. The frequency of appearance of general visual elements in other
eighteenth-century sermons is evident from even a cursory examination of the substantial
excerpts of the work of others included in Notes .
28. For instance, a search in an electronic version of the Richard Challoner edition of
the Bible (1750-52) ( Literature Online . 1996-2001 ProQuest Information and Learning
Co., 17 October 2001 <http://lion.chadwyck.com>) reveals approximately 800 instances
of the word "behold." Other instances in the Sermons include 19.20, 19.26, 27.19-23, and
54.22-25. (Citations refer to The Sermons of Laurence Sterne , ed. Melvyn New
[Gainesville, FL: U. Press of Florida, 1996]; page and line numbers hereafter cited
parenthetically in text.) In general, the use of the visual imperative by Sterne in his
sermons would have reinforced his message by repeating similar biblical language that
carried the stamp of authority and with which his audience was already on familiar footing.
In "Sterne as Editor: The 'Abuses of Conscience Sermon'" ( Studies in ^-Century
Culture 8 : 243-51), New specifically mentions the "series of imperatives" in this
sermon, with which "Sterne invites his auditors to go with him" (248).
For a comparative (and less pictorial) use of the visual imperative, see Isaac Maddox's
1743 charity sermon, "The duty and advantages of encouraging public infirmaries," as
provided in Notes 97-98.
Brissenden observes that "a reading of Sterne's published works — including the
Sermons — would be enough to demonstrate that he was unusually well acquainted with
both the theory and the practice of painting" (93-94).
29. In Notes . New cites a parallel with a passage in "The Captive" from A
Sentimental Journey : "I beheld his body half wasted away with long expectation and
confinement . . ." (298 n. 265.22-23; ASJ 202.12-13).
30. See also: "Look out of your door, — take notice of that man: see what disquieting,
intriguing and shifting, he is content to go through, merely to be thought a man of plain
dealing . . . Behold a second, under a shew of piety hiding the impurities of a debauched
life . . . Observe a third going on almost in the same track . . ." ( Sermons 162.17-26).
Notes observes that "Sterne paints several imaginative portraits here, and in the following
paragraphs, but the mark of his unique hand is found much more in the punctuation . . .
than in the content" (202 n. 162.22-163.5). The intensity of the visuality, shown in these
longer passages, might suggest Sterne's inclination toward that means of expression
which, if not entirely unique, does place him in a group of writers — both of sermons and
of fiction — who skillfully and effectively use this technique.
For additional multiple instances of the visual imperative describing a scene or place,
cf Sermons 14.19-16.16, 20.2-4, 24.14-19 (to which Notes comments: "Sterne has
several echoes of this passage in his fiction" [79 n. 24.14-23]), 85.19-23, 222.1-6, 265.14-
16, and 365.4-9.
Usually meant for a mortal audience, the visual imperative can also be directed to the
deity: "O GOD! look upon his afflictions. — Behold him distracted with many sorrows . . ."
( Sermons 18.19-20); cf. 181.1-3.
For other instances of the "simple" visual imperative, cf. Sermons 10.10, 20.2-4,
46.27-32, 85.13-15, 85.24-27, 100.5-7, 101.8-20, 193.29-30, 205.17-18, 205.23-26,
258.30-31, and 265.1-3.
3 1 . The description of the Prodigal Son's departure that follows is so vivid and
distinct in its detail, New comments in Notes that "Sterne would almost seem to have a
specific picture in mind," adding that the "parable was often illustrated"; no matching
rendition has yet been identified, however (224 n. 187.1 1-19). This note also includes an
excerpt from Robert Goadby's An Illustration of the New Testament (1760), s.v. Luke
15:11 . which remarks on the visuality of the original version of the tale: "it abounds with
the tender Passions, is finely painted with the most beautiful Images, and is to the Mind
what a charming diversified Landscape is to the Eye."
Other instances of naming a "picture" in the context of the visual imperative include
Sermons 10.18-19, 46.27-28, 66.4-8, and 381.18-19. For implied pictures, cf 206.24-
207.1, 230.9-12, and 260.22-28. For an ambiguous use of the word "drawn," cf. 260.18-
As in his correspondence, Sterne occasionally uses the visually based original/copy
parallel in descriptions in his sermons. He relates that there is a danger "if the scene
painted of the prodigal in his travels, looks more like a copy than an original . . ."
( Sermons 192.32-193.1). Cf. 96.20-24 and 393.22-25.
32. For other instances of using the process of drawing or painting to describe a place
or thing, cf. Sermons 167.27-168.1 and 260.22-28.
33. Sterne self-mockingly praises the picture over the word elsewhere, perhaps most
notably in his description of Janatone in Tristram Shandy . See 27-28.
In his treatise on the visual arts, Leonardo Da Vinci asserts a similar point about the
supremacy of the visual over the verbal. Addressing the poet, he states: "your pen will be
worn out before you have fully described something that the painter may present to you
instantaneously using his science" ( Leonardo on Painting , ed. Martin Kemp [New Haven,
CT: Yale U. Press, 1989], 28).
34. Another prominent example of the visual description of people also seems to
allude to an analogue in individual psychological processes: "we have been very successful
in later days, and have found out the art, by a proper management of light and shade, to
compound all these vices together, so as to give body and strength to the whole, whilst no
one but a discerning artist is able to discover the labours that join in finishing the picture"
( Sermons 107.3 1-108.3). For other direct references to drawing or painting in respect to
character, cf. Sermons 24.29-30, 47.3-5, 51.4-6, 51.8-13, 51.19-21, 84.24-26, 85.4-12,
92.30-31, 104.20-23, 134.14-19, 233.11-14, 301.30-302.5, 322.23-25, and 410.25-30.
Sterne also uses the metaphor of the "glass" as a way of expressing a medium for the
display of his verbal observations: "Whoever takes a view of the life of man, in this glass
wherein I have shewn it . . ." ( Sermons 72.5-6). Notes points out that this usage is
commonplace (n. to 19.3; cf. 19.3-4, 101.28-30, 415.17-18, and possibly 211.20-22).
It is worth noting that the occasional description of the process of verbal "illustration"
in the Sermons lacks the self-reflexive commentary found in Tristram Shandy : see 47 n. 62
35. For other visual metaphors, cf. Sermons 178.8-11 and 180.18-19.
36. For other textual variations that reflect Sterne's inclusion of visual elements, cf.
Sermons 27.19-25 (and 81 n. 27.19-28.21), 216.24-26 (and 251 n. 216.21-26), 392.22-26
(and 420 n. 392.22-31).
37. Notes provides an example of the phrase from Hall (199 n. 159.12-25), and a
search of Literature Online (1996-2001 ProQuest Information and Learning Co. 17
October 2001 <http://lion.chadwyck.com>) reveals ten prose occurrences of this
expression that predate Sterne. For other identifiable adoptions of the visual (some of
which are embellished by Sterne with additional visual rhetoric), cf. Sermons 39.12-16
(and 92 n. 39.12-24), 66.19-25 (and 121 n. 66.16-25), 200.29-32 (and 237 n. 200.31),
373.5-8 (and 401 n. 372.32-373.18), and 412.10-15 (and 445-46 n. 412.10-15).
38. For another reference to shapes, cf. Sermons 133.27-32.
39. For other references to the theatrical, cf. Sermons 173.4-6 and 23 1 .32-232.6.
40. For other instances of "appearance," cf. Sermons 36.24-28, 58.13, 185.5-8,
308.7-10, 308.12-14, 309.22-26, and 421.5-6.
41. A Political Romance (in A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy , ed. Ian
Jack [1965; Oxford and New York: Oxford U. Press, 1984]), 217. The idea of the false
connotations of the visual is expressed in the Sermons , especially "appearances" (see n.
42. APR 221-22. For other examples of metaphorical visuality in A Political
Romance , see also: "The President of the Night, who is thought to be as clear and quick-
sighted as any one . . ." ( APR 214); "Why, answered the Partition-Treaty Gentleman,
with great Spirit and Joy sparkling in his Eyes" (218); and "the Parson went on with a
visible Superiority" (219).
43. Sterne's Memoirs: A Hitherto Unrecorded Holograph Now Brought to Light in
Facsimile , intro. and commentary by Kenneth Monkman (Coxwold, UK: Laurence Sterne
Trust, 1985), 22.
Sterne's practices in the visual arts are outlined by Cash in Laurence Sterne: The Early
and Middle Years (London: Methuen, 1975), 196-214.
Wilbur L. Cross, in The Life and Times of Laurence Sterne (New Haven, CT: Yale U.
Press, 1925), 107, cites John Croft's opinion of Sterne's own abilities in the visual arts:
"he wou'd take up the pencil and paint pictures. He chiefly copied portraits. He had a
good idea of drawing, but not the least of mixing his colours." For a more detailed
examination of the evidence of Sterne's capabilities in the visual arts, see Holtz, 3-4.
Judging from his mention of painting apparatus and use of visual metaphor, Holtz
concludes that "painting occupied a large measure of Sterne's attention" (6) and that he
possessed "a special visual and 'painterly' bias in his own sensibility," a quality Holtz
enigmatically calls "hard to prove, but hard to disbelieve" (15).
44. In Laurence Sterne: The Early and Middle Years . Cash notes that "Sterne may not
have been an accomplished painter, but he was sensitive to spatial and chromatic
arrangements and had a highly developed visual imagination" (212).
45. A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy , ed. Gardner D. Stout, Jr.
(Berkeley and Los Angeles: U. of California Press, 1967), 70. 19. Hereafter cited
parenthetically in the text.
46. Stout (71 n. 29) identifies Guido (1575-1642) as a painter of the Bolognese
school, and notes occurrence of the phrase, "the airs of Guido," in Tristram Shandy
(III. 12.214.7). See also n. to 8.3 in A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy , ed.
Melvyn New and W. G. Day (Gainesville, FL: U. Press of Florida, to be published 2002).
47. The use of visual language does not guarantee a response by illustrators, however:
the head of Lorenzo is only rarely depicted in editions of A Sentimental Journey , while in
contrast the Captive was a very popular subject from the late-eighteenth through the early-
48. Episodes which include lengthy visual descriptions (and which also have been the
frequent subjects of illustration) also include Yorick's second meeting with the monk (also
known as "The Snuff Box"), "The Dead Ass," "The Letter. Amiens" (also known as "The
Merry Kitchen"), "The Pulse," "Maria," and "The Grace."
49. Noting the difficulty of analyzing the text-image dynamic in The Illustration of
Books (New York: Pantheon, 1952), David Bland remarks that "illustration is at best an
impure art" (12). Other factors contributing to the decision to illustrate certain scenes
might include the interest of individual artists and, at times, the cultural value of specific
episodes as sentimental or erotic tableaus.
50. For another instance of spontaneous kinship, cf: Yorick relates that "an old
Desobligeant in the furthest corner of the court, hit my fancy at first sight, so I instantly
got into it" and found it "in tolerable harmony with my feelings" (76.6-7, 77.9-10).
51. For other instances of unusual value placed on appearance, cf. 89.9-12, 91.3-5,
94.33-37, 113.12-14, 124.1-3, 124.7-10, 149.12-14, 207.13-16, and 207.25-27.
52. For other instances of communication through unspoken language, cf. "The
Monk" (73.1-74.34), "The Remise Door" (97.28-37), "The Pulse" (162.26-30), "The
Translation" (172.37-173.67), "The Fille De Chambre" (189.39-42), and "Maria" (271.49-
52); cf. Toby and Wadman on the sofa (T_S IX.20.772. 10-19).
53. For other examples of painterly language, cf ASJ 72.45-50, 82.72-74, 92. 19-27,
125.34-37, 131.8-12, 190.89-191.93, 199.89-200.93, and 277.1-7. For theatrical
language, cf. ASJ 257.5-8.
54. Most visual metaphors in A Sentimental Journey are less direct than this example.
For other examples, cf. ASJ 197.49-54 and 264.45-46. For three-dimensional metaphors,
cf. ASJ 166.23-167.30 ("like rough pebbles shook long together in a bag . . .") and
232.43-233.52 ("The English . . . preserve the first sharpnesses which the fine hand of
nature has given them").
55. See John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding , ed. Peter H.
Nidditch (Oxford: Clarendon, 1975). Throughout his works, and especially in Tristram
Shandy . Sterne seems (sometimes playfully) aware of Locke's contention that sight is "the
most comprehensive of all our Senses" (II.ix.9. 146.27-28); numerous critics have
suggested elaborate lines of influence from Locke to Sterne.
Perhaps of most interest here is Locke's observation that the "Perception of the Mind
. . . [is] most aptly explained by Words relating to the Sight" (II.xxix.2.363.10-1 1). This
assertion seems to coincide with Sterne's tendency toward visuality in his writing.
Significantly, this passage in ECHU appears immediately before Locke's statement that
"The cause of Obscurity in simple Ideas , seems to be either dull Organs; or very slight and
transient Impressions made by the Objects" (II.xxix.3.363.29-31), from which Sterne
freely adapts the following passage in Tristram Shandy :
the cause of obscurity and confusion, in the mind of man, is threefold.
Dull organs, dear Sir, in the first place. Secondly, slight and transient impressions
made by objects when the said organs are not dull. (TS II.2.99. 1-6)
56. See Stout 205 for the most commonly reproduced version of the crest. No
editions of A Sentimental Journey seem to have excluded the coat of arms. The graphic
which appears in the first edition in 1768, or a close variation of it, is almost universally
reproduced. In rare cases, the artist who illustrates the edition will also redraw the coat of
arms in their own style.
Stout cites the association between Sterne's name and the Old English word for
starling, stearn . and observes that the bird makes a "fittingly emblematic crest to the arms
of a sentimental, quixotic knight-errant like 'poor Yorick'" (see ASJ 156.19). For more
on this and the legitimacy of Laurence Sterne's claim to this coat of arms, see ASJ n. to
57. For more on Sterne's portrait of Eliza, likely the real-life counterpart to these
references in A Sentimental Journey , see previous discussion in 40 nn. 20, 21, and 22,
58. In The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy. Gentleman. Volume III: The Notes
(Gainesville, FL: U. Press of Florida, 1984), New points out: "As Sterne probably knew,
the use of wet drapery, the practice of the ancient sculptors, was not recommended for
painters" (457 n. 589.14-15).
Descriptions that refer to the visual arts are abundant in Tristram Shandy , and it is
worthwhile here to make note of a few additional outstanding examples instead of
attempting a complete catalogue. Tristram claims a kinship with artists as fellow creators,
stating that " Writers of my stamp have one principle in common with painters. —
Where an exact copying makes our pictures less striking, we choose the less evil; deeming
it even more pardonable to trespass against truth, than beauty" (TS 11.4. 104. 13-16). The
analysis of painting also becomes a metaphorical method forjudging scenes; Tristram has
torn out his chapter describing the procession to the visitation dinner house because "the
painting of this journey, upon reviewing it, appears to be so much above the stile and
manner of any thing else I have been able to paint in this book, that it could not have
remained in it, without depreciating every other scene" (TS IV.25. 374. 17-20).
Parallels between Sterne's description and painting are vivid in his depiction of Mrs.
Shandy standing outside the partially open parlour door: the "picture" of her rivals an
actual work of art: "the listening slave, with the Goddess of Silence at his back, could not
have given a finer thought for an intaglio" (TS V. 5. 427. 1-2). In Notes . New states that
this is "Almost certainly an allusion to the well-known classical statue Arrotino
('Whetter') in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence" (354 n. 427. 1).
59. Reynolds, of course, had painted Sterne's portrait by the time this chapter was
written. For more on the relationship between Sterne and Reynolds, see Holtz 30-38, and
Cash, The Later Years . 31-32 and 108-10.
60. Brissenden also notes that Sterne "often uses the language of the artist, speaking
of strokes, tints, outlines, attitudes, lights, keeping, colouring and design with the fluency
and assurance of one who knows exactly what such terms mean" (94). Sterne's pervasive
use of visual elements, however, does not come under separate scrutiny in Brissenden' s
study as part of Sterne's rhetorical technique.
61. The instances of intensely visual descriptions are so numerous, that a
comprehensive list is less helpful than the observation of several particularly striking
examples. Worth noting is Slop's entrance into the parlour, where he "stood like
Hamlet 's ghost, motionless and speechless, for a full minute and a half, at the parlour
door, ( Obadiah still holding his hand) with all the majesty of mud" (TS II. 10. 124.2-5);
here Sterne paints a verbal picture that recalls the previous scene of Slop's collision, and
forebodes Slop's ill mood during Trim's reading of the sermon. Another instance
illustrates Walter's splenetic character:
— My father thrust back his chair, rose up, put on his hat, took four
long strides to the door,— jerked it open, — thrust his head halfway out, — shut the
door again, — took no notice of the bad hinge, — returned to the table, — pluck'd my
mother's thread-paper out of Slawkenbergius 's book, — went hastily to his bureau, —
walk'd slowly back, twisting my mother's thread-paper about his thumb, — unbutton'd
his waistcoat, threw my mother's thread-paper into the fire, — bit her sattin pin-
cushion in two, fill'd his mouth with bran, — confounded it . . . (TS III 41 282 27-
Here the multitudes of small visual details— short, powerful verbal "strokes" depicting
actions and things — accumulate to create a vivid, multifaceted portrait of Tristram's
father; indeed, in their sequential presentation, Sterne seems to anticipate the ultimate
visualization of life made available in film.
Briefer visual descriptions include Tristram's self-depiction in the act of writing (TS
III. 39. 278. 27-279. 2) and the position Trim assumes as he begins to relate the "Story of
the king of Bohemia and his seven castles" (IS VIII. 19.682. 16-683.2).
For Tristram's comments on his own descriptive ability, see TS VI. 21 .534.3-8.
62. See also Toby's focus on the crevice during Walter's discussion of "the right end
of a woman" (TS II. 7. 1 17.20-2 If). Locke observes that " Ideas that in themselves are not
at all of kin, come so united in some Mens Minds, that 'tis very hard to separate them,
they always keep in company, and the one no sooner at any time comes into the
Understanding but its Associate appears with it" ( ECHU II.xxxiii.395. 3 1-34). The
relationship between Sterne's use of association and Locke's theory on the subject has
been explored by several critics; overall, the emphasis of these investigations have been on
verbal, and not visual, association.
63. Other notable instances of visual metaphor include Yorick's deathbed description
of his head, which is "so bruised and misshapen'd with the blows which ***** and *****,
and some others have so unhandsomely given me in the dark . . ." (TS 126.96.36.199-19) and
the fanciful suggestion that "had my uncle Toby 's head been a Savoyard 's box, and my
father peeping in all the time at one end of it, it could not have given him a more
distinct conception of the operations in my uncle Toby 's imagination, than what he had"
64. Other significant instances of the visual imperative include Trim's verbal flourish
during the telling of a war story ("Look along the line — to the right — see! Jack 's down!"
[TS.V. 10.436. 17]) and Tristram's address to " Jenny " ("whilst thou art twisting that
lock,— see! it grows grey" [TS IX.8. 754. 22-23]). The visual imperative also serves as a
convenient device for the narrator of the story of the abbess of Andouillets, who, after a
description of the drunk muleteer, declares "let us leave him then in the vortex of his
element, the happiest and most thoughtless of mortal men — and for a moment let us look
after the mules, the abbess, and Margarita" (IS VII.21 .610.8-1 1).
65. The description of abstract values using visible and concrete symbols is a common
device throughout literature, and Sterne's use of this technique not only illustrates a point,
but often seems to be intended as a satirical application of the device. For instance,
Walter's statement that "knowledge, like matter, he would affirm, was divisible in
infinitum" (TS 188.8.131.52-26) questions Walter's certainty about the value of learning.
When Obadiah announces Bobby's death, " — A green sattin night-gown of my mother's,
which had been twice scoured, was the first idea which Obadiah ' s exclamation brought
into Susannah's head" (T_S V.7.429. 15-17). Less absurdly comic versions of the visual
concretization of the abstract occurs in Sterne's discussion of his own work: "surveying
the texture of what has been wrote, it is necessary, that upon this page and the five
following, a good quantity of heterogeneous matter be inserted, to keep up that just
balance betwixt wisdom and folly, without which a book would not hold together a single
year" (TS IX. 12.761.2-6).
Tristram's reflexive tendency makes a commentary on this technique of visualizing the
abstract inevitable, comically expressed in his "experiment" with "two pegs stuck slightly
into two gimlet-holes" representing wit and judgment (TS III. preface. 235. 23ff); by toying
with the knobs, he underlines the limitations, as well as the absurd potential, of making the
abstract visual. His self-consciousness in this passage, which compels the reader with
near-imperatives to share the narrator's comparison, also resembles his self-commentary
regarding descriptions of characters.
66. Other notable instances of expression of character and things through attitude,
gesture, and other aspects of appearance include Walter's recovery from grief signaled
when he "pushed the chamber-pot still a little farther within the valance — gave a hem —
raised himself up upon his elbow" ( TS IV.6.33 1.14-16). The "language" of gesture is
more explicitly demonstrated by Trim's bow to Toby, "which generally spoke as plain as a
bow could speak it — Your honour is good " ( TS VI. 7. 503. 14-15). A visual effect that is
perhaps even more direct is the appearance of Toby himself, who is described as having
"marks of infinite benevolence and forgiveness in his looks" (TS IX. 32. 805. 8-9).
A tangent to this approach is the discussion of the interior/exterior dichotomy, most
vividly illustrated by "Momus's glass" (TS 1.23.82. 10), which would allow the observer to
view "the soul stark naked" (IS 184.108.40.206); see 1 18 n. 82.10-12. Cf. IS III 4. 189. 18-20
and VI. 5.497. 1 1-26. The commonplace origin of this concept is suggested in 404 n.
67. For other visual references to the theater, cf. T_S 1. 19.63.24-64. 1, 11.3. 1 14.2-3,
II.8. 120.8-11, n. 10. 124.2-4, 220.127.116.11-18, and IVS.T.3 18.4-5.
68. For other references to the mechanical, cf. T_S 18.104.22.168-82.5, III. 18.222.15-16,
III.41.283.23, 111.42.286. 12-16, IV.8.333. 17-334.9, IV.12.340.17-19, IV.19.354.8,
V6.427.6-14,V. 15.444.21-23, VI. 17.525.4-5, and VII. 1.575.5. Some of Sterne's use of
mechanical allusion seems to comment on Julien Offray de la Mettrie's concept of
Thomme machine .
69. For instances of mazes and labyrinths, see TS II.3. 103.22-24, IV. Slawk.3 17.25,
and VI.37.565.4-6. For more on this subject, see Stephen Soud, '"Weavers, Gardeners,
and Gladiators': Labyrinths in Tristram Shandy " ( Eighteenth-Century Studies 28:4 :
For examples of web imagery, see IS IV. 19.355.20-21 and VI.33. 558.9-15. For more
on the subject, see John B. Lamb, "A 'Chaos of Being': Carlyle and the Shandean Web of
History" ( CLIO: A Journal of Literature. History, and the Philosophy of History 20: 1
70. A single mandatory graphic exists, of course, in A Sentimental Journey in the
form of Yorick's starling-adorned crest. For more on the phenomenon of graphics and
unusual type treatments in Tristram Shandv . see Holtz, Image and Immortality . 80-89 and
Chapter 2, Part 2 of this study.
Figure 1 - 1 . Illustration by William Hogarth (first state) for Laurence
Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy. Gentleman
(London: R. and J. Dodsley, 1760), 1: frontispiece.
lot 4- /Mil'' jIU
r f 1
*K 'VJtSyw/19* c/tt
. /: /ia<>tu>-f <«nf/>.
Figure 1-2. Illustration by William Hogarth for Laurence Sterne, The
Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy. Gentleman (London:
R. and J. Dodsley, 1761), 3: frontispiece.
Figure 1 -3 . Detail from John Hamilton Mortimer, A Caricature Group
(n.d. [c.1767]; polychrome oil on canvas).
CRITICAL COMMENTARY ON STERNE'S VISUALITY
The stylistic thread of visuality that weaves its way through Sterne's work plays a
significant part in characterizing what Edmund Burke describes in 1760 as his "very lively
and very irregular imagination " 2 Sterne's visual rhetoric has attracted critical attention
from the appearance of the first volumes of Tristram Shandy , attention which continues,
pursuing increasingly diverse approaches, for the entire 250 years since their first
publication. So copious is this diverse historical commentary on Sterne's visuality, in fact,
that the following selective critical history is divided into two parts: the first two centuries
of discussion will be addressed in the first part of this chapter, while the many recent
studies of the subject will come under examination in the second part. In addition to
opening up many valuable avenues for further discussion, the volume of commentary
about Sterne's visuality suggests the presence of a uniquely pictorial aspect in his work, a
quality I will seek to illuminate in this study through the combined investigation of
previous criticism, Sterne's texts, and illustrations of those texts.
Part 1: "Anti-Shandeans, thrice-able Critics, and fellow-labourers": 1 1760-1957
In the fifty years after the initial appearance of Tristram Shandy and A Sentimental
Journey , critical observation of Sterne's visual rhetoric is often found in both
contemporary reviews and private observations of his work; Alan B. Howes' s extensive
documentation of early Sterne commentary in Sterne: The Critical Heritage is an
invaluable tool in chronicling the early stages of this evaluation. Precisely because Howes
did not set out specifically to collect discussions of Sterne's visuality, the pervasiveness of
critical observations in his collection that address this rhetorical technique attests to the
pervasiveness of the recognition of visuality as a component in Sterne's work.
Discussions of this pictorial element are sometimes brief; for example, Horace
Walpole, writing about "Sterne's sentimental travels" to Thomas Gray in 1768, comments
that "though often tiresome," they are "exceedingly good-natured and picturesque"
(Howes 202). Joseph Pierre Frenais similarly remarks in the preface to his 1 776
translation of the first four volumes of Tristram Shandy that Sterne's descriptions are
"picturesque" (Howes 395). And, yet again, in the 1796 Le Reveur Sentimental . Pierre
Blanchard observes that "I know of no one like Sterne who can find the picturesque,
distinctive trait that you have seen a thousand times but never noticed" (Howes 405).
Blanchard's recognition of Sterne's ability to describe unnoticed details is, as we shall see,
a common factor among many of the observers of Sterne's visual rhetoric.
The recognition of Sterne's "picturesque" writing — referring, it would seem, to a
general idea of verbal pictorialism rather than to the specific visual aesthetic promoted by
William Gilpin and others — is complemented by discussions that refer more specifically to
the visual arts. An unsigned entry on Sterne in An Historical and Critical Account of the
Lives and Writings of the Living Authors of Great Britain (1762) remarks that the writer's
"Characters approach almost to Caricaturas" after the style of Rabelais (Howes 151). In
1777, the anonymous writer of Yorick's Skull calls Tristram Shandy an "admirable
caricature of history" rather than "an exact portrait of private life" (Howes 243). The
connection to the visual arts is also hinted at in an unsigned piece in the Critical Review
(1761) that calls attention to the similarity of Sterne's writing to Rabelais' s in "the
address, the manner, and colouring" (Howes 126); similarly, in A Commentary Illustrating
the Poetic of Aristotle (1792), Henry James Pye notes Sterne's "high coloring" (Howes
317). The editor of the 1790 Beauties of Sterne touts his collection as having "true
Shandean colouring," as opposed to earlier editions that "were of rather too confined a
cast, — and that, contrary to the original, the utile and the dulce were not sufficiently
blended, or in equal quantities." 3 Ignatius Sancho, in a letter to an unidentified friend
dated 1778, suggests the connection to painting even more strongly, commenting that
both Fielding and Sterne had "palettes stored with proper colours of the brightest dye,"
and that "their outline" was "correct — bold — and free" (Howes 176).
Many critics describe Sterne's writing with terms borrowed from the visual arts,
enlarging and enhancing the parallel in the process. In 1 760, an unidentified acquaintance
of Steme notes his belief that Sterne "meant to sketch out his own character in that of
Yorick" (Howes 59), while an unnamed reviewer in the 1768 Critical Review mentions
that, in rendering the monk, Sterne has "taken great pains to draw the figure" (Howes
198). More detailed metaphors using visual language emerge from commentary of this
period, as well: Jeremiah Newman, in his 1796 Lounger's Common-Place Book , observes
Sterne's talent "to sketch out affecting and masterly pictures" (Howes 298), and an
unsigned review in the Journal Encyclopedique (1760) praises the "dazzling quality of his
portraits" in Tristram Shandy (Howes 382). An anonymous 1786 French review
proclaims that "the most lively and realistic pictures . . . flow in turn and without order
from his [Sterne's] facile, natural, and unconstrained pen" (Howes 401). An anonymous
reviewer of the 1786 Frenais translation of A Sentimental Journey also compares the text
to artwork, suggesting that Sterne's "pictures are chosen from the common ranks of
society, conceived with delicacy, and executed with wit and gaiety. He has ... the rare
talent of arousing our interest by pictures and details that we see every day" (Howes 389).
In addition to hinting at the effectiveness of visuality, these reviewers also identify a
consistent quality of joy and spontaneity in his creation of verbal pictures that seems to be
related to the popular conception of the author himself.
A 1761 pamphlet, Alas! Poor YORICKi or. a FUNERAL DISCOURSE , uses the
visual metaphor with more ambivalence; addressing Sterne, its writer states that "though
you had no principal figures that made a true composition, yet the corners of your picture
presented here and there entertaining decorations" (Howes 134). On the other hand, the
enduring importance of these "pictures" is asserted by Clara Reeve, author of The Old
English Baron , in her 1785 The Progress of Romance , when she notes that his depiction of
Maria, Le Fever, and the Monk "are charming pictures, and will survive, when all his other
writings are forgot" (Howes 263).
It is the particular metaphor of painting, however, which seems be the most prevalent
means of comparing Sterne's words with the visual arts in this period, a parallel Sterne
himself seems to have encouraged (though perhaps only half-seriously) with his discussion
of the theories of du Fresnoy, da Vinci, Hogarth, and Reynolds, and also in his visually
evocative descriptions, such as of the Monk Lorenzo in Sentimental Journey . 4 The
painterly metaphor is often broadly applied by Sterne's readers, as with Ignatius Sancho's
1 778 observation that both Fielding and Sterne were "great masters, who painted for
posterity" (Howes 177). In 1771, Thomas Jefferson considers Sterne's writing a "lively"
painting which is a "tolerable picture of nature" (Howes 215); Georg Christoph
Lichtenberg calls Sterne "the inimitable pleasant babbler and painter of emotions" (Howes
442) in 1799; and in 1790 Nikolai Mikhailovich Karamzin labels Sterne the "original
painter of sentimentality" (Howes 457). The connection between painting and the
expression of feeling that Karamzin notes is echoed by the philosopher Pierre-Simon
Ballanche fite, who comments in 1801 that Sterne "painted the emotions in uncommon
situations, in picturesque groupings, in subtle observations of customs" (Howes 406) —
likely intending the use of "picturesque" as "like of having the elements of a picture"
(OED). The metaphor of painting frequently occurs in this period to convey an
appreciation of Sterne's descriptions of feeling; for instance, Frenais, in his preface to his
translation (1776) of the first four books of Tristram Shandy , comments that Sterne
"always paints his subjects with propriety and it would be difficult to paint them with more
feeling or more delicacy" (Howes 394). Similarly, John Ogilvie, in his Philosophical and
Critical Observations (1774), lauds Sterne on his ability to "paint" so as to "imitate nature
in her most delicate signatures" as well as his "instantaneous perception of certain
attitudes" (Howes 240).
Several commentators, however, focus specifically on Sterne's descriptions of specific
people and places in reference to painting; in 1785, Mallet du Pan, touching on the
emotional aspect of Sterne's "painting," states that "no one tells a story with greater
interest, nor sketches in details with more truth, nor paints with more feeling than Sterne,"
in the stories of Uncle Toby and the fly, the Abbess of Andouillets, and especially the tales
of Le Fever and Maria. Here, observes du Pan, "there is no blurred stroke of the brush,
no affectation nor exaggeration" (Howes 400). In her 1786 evaluation of Sterne's
visuality, Madame Suard enthusiastically comments on the precision of Sterne's
descriptions: "With what art, what truth, he paints a scene and traces a portrait! Look, I
beg you, at that of good Father Lorenzo: he draws him for us with features so clear, so
precise, that it seems to me a skillful artist, taking his palette, could paint him for us from
the description" (Howes 404). Perhaps it is because they read Sterne in translation, but
both Du Pan and Suard, despite the specificity of their readings, seem almost more
inclined to praise Sterne as a creator of visual depictions than of verbal ones.
Sterne's tendency toward a "painterly" technique inspires some critics to draw more
direct comparisons with artists. In 1771, Voltaire finds Sterne's pictorial ability superior
to that of visual artists, observing that in the "Abuses of Conscience" sermon in Tristram
Shandy , "among several pictures superior to those of Rembrandt and the pencil of Callot,
there is one of a gentleman and man of the world, spending his days in the pleasures of
eating, gaming, and debauchery" (Howes 391). In a similar vein, Chrisoph Martin
Wieland asks in 1 767 that when Sterne "paints for us happy scenes of naively beautiful
nature, what writer has ever been so much of a Correggio as he?" (Howes 424).
Needless to say, many of these commentaries are the stock-in-trade of an age that was
yet to be taught to distinguish aesthetically between the visual and the literary; writers with
styles as diverse as Fielding and Richardson were also highly praised for their "paintings"
of human nature. Without making any claim, therefore, that this vocabulary occurs more
often in Sterne criticism than in other commentary (although I suspect it does), what I
want to establish is the variety of expressions the fundamental trope received, how it
broadly covered many aspects of both novels, and, most important, how it prepares the
way for the actual visual representations that came to accompany Sterne's work down the
"gutter of Time." It is perhaps a post-hoc fallacy, but one might suggest, at least, that the
higher incidence of illustrations of Sterne's work than of Richardson's or Fielding's,
reflects the fact that among critics and readers, a higher incidence of visual metaphor did
come into play.
Perhaps the most interesting contemporary comments on Sterne's visuality are those
that analyze the reception of Sterne's verbal "painting" as a prompt to the reader's
imagination. The anonymous writer of "The Leveller" in Westminster Magazine of 1775
responds to the visually compelling aspect of Sterne's prose (perhaps in a fashion similar
to the function of the visual imperative discussed in Chapter 1): "I thought I saw before
me the little fat Doctor, mounted on his diminutive poney ... I thought I saw the hasty
Obadiah, mounted on a great unruly brute of a coach horse ... I painted to myself the
terror and consternation of the Doctor's face ... All these, I say, with many other
additional circumstances, painted themselves so strongly on my imagination, that I laughed
most immoderately loud" (Howes 241-42). The description seems to attribute to the
written passage the ability to create an active, moving vision, a continuously "painted"
scene, just as the frames of a film move forward and together; enthralled by this verbally
generated spectacle, this reader confesses to behaving indiscreetly — laughing "most
immoderately loud" — his testimony to Sterne's vivid depictions.
At least one contemporary observer attempts to scientifically analyze the effect of
Sterne's visuality. In 1792, Dugald Stewart, an important theorist of affective psychology,
connects Sterne's descriptive ability to the triggering of a pathetic emotional response
from the reader: "what we commonly call sensibility," he writes, "depends, in a great
measure, on the power of imagination" (Howes 318). Stewart observes that the
sympathetic perceiver will visually project from a pathetic situation all the unfortunate
circumstances that surround it, and as he imaginatively "proceeds in the painting, his
sensibility increases, and he weeps, not for what he sees, but for what he imagines"
(Howes 319). This process, Stewart asserts, is "beautifully illustrated" (Howes 3 19) by
Sterne's use of the starling in A Sentimental Journey . Stewart's focus on the response
provoked by Sterne's visual rhetoric, rather than simply on the technique itself, suggests
an underlying theme to the ongoing critical discussion about the Sterne's pictorialism: the
desire to describe the elusive effect the visual elements have on his readers.
In addition, as has already been suggested, the attitude toward the visual quality of
Sterne's work was not always a flattering one; some critics seized on Sterne's visuality as
a morally reprehensible characteristic of his work. In The Citizen of the World (1 760),
Oliver Goldsmith appears to be referring to Sterne in his discussion of a certain writer who
iconoclastically "paints things as they are, " revealing to "the erring people that the object
of their vows is either perhaps a mouse, or a monkey" (Howes 93). Vicesimus Knox, in
Essays Moral and Literary (1787), stresses a variation on the idea of visual exposure,
stating "it is, indeed, easy to attract the notice and the admiration of the youthful and the
wanton, by exhibiting loose images under a transparent veil." 5 The condemnation of
Sterne's "imagery" is a popular point for Sterne's detractors. In 1797, William
Wilberforce accuses Sterne of a mischievous style that "excites impure images" in the
reader "without shocking us by the grossness of the language" (Howes 302). An unsigned
notice in the 1767 Gentleman's Magazine remarks that Sterne "lessens the power of the
most important of all passions, by connecting disgustful images with its gratifications"
(Howes 180). George Gregory's 1787 complaint that Sterne resorts to "the readiest and
most copious source of pathetic imagery" (Howes 265) reflects another variation in this
perceived danger of imagery, emphasizing banality instead of a moral threat.
Some hostile commentators are more direct in their condemnation of Sterne's ability
to create pictures in the reader's mind. John Ferriar, in the second edition of Illustrations
of Sterne (1798), observes that Sterne "dwelt with enthusiasm on the grotesque pictures
of manners and opinions, displayed by his favorite authors" (Howes 289). Mary Berry
takes a similar approach in 1798, commenting that Tristram Shandy , "while it diverts,
always reminds me of a Dutch portrait, in which we admire the accurate representation of
all the little disgusting blemishes — the warts, moles, and hairs — of the human form"
(Howes 320). To many contemporary critics, Sterne's visuality constitutes an important
part of his talent, but this same ability condemns him in the eyes of others; both groups,
however, seem to concur on the engrossing effect of the technique.
Several late-eighteenth-century critics who found more good than bad in Sterne's
work discuss their reactions to the writer's visuality in more depth. In an unsigned review
in the Monthly Review (1765), Ralph Griffith is moved emotionally by Sterne's invocation
to the "Just disposer of our joys and sorrows" in A Sentimental Journey : "Give me thy
hand, dear Shandy!" Griffith implores, "Give me they heart! — What a delightful scene
hast thou drawn! Would we had it upon two yards of REYNOLDS'S canvass!" (Howes
165). He is similarly affected by the scene describing the widow Wadman's eye in a
comment which escalates to a more general praise of the visuality of Sterne/Tristram:
"Never was any thing more beautifully simple, more natural, more touching ! O Tristram!
that ever any grosser colours should daub and defile that pencil of thine, so admirably
fitted for the production of the most delicate as well as the most masterly pictures of men,
manners, and situations!" (Howes 166). Here and elsewhere, perhaps the most powerful
tribute to Sterne's visuality comes in the form of imitation of his style. Griffith concludes
with recommendations to Sterne: "Paint Nature in her loveliest dress — her native
simplicity. Draw natural scenes, and interesting situations" (Howes 168). In a later
unsigned review in the Monthly Review (1768), Griffith comments on Sterne's depiction
of the monk Lorenzo: "What an affecting, touching, masterly picture is here!" (Howes
199). Griffith's repetitive praise of the effectiveness of Sterne's visuality suggests the
centrality of the technique to his consideration of the text, and hints at the role of the
individual reader's response in making the pictures engaging.
The poet known as the "Swan of Lichfield," Anna Seward, cites different visual
criteria for her methodological critical praise of Sterne's work in 1787, noting its "original
colouring" (Howes 268). Comparing Tristram Shandy with Memoirs of Martinus
Scriblerus , Seward states, "there is an immense superiority in the vividness with which he
[Sterne] has coloured his Shandy" (Howes 269); and in 1 788 she cites visual elements to
defend Sterne against charges of simply rewriting the earlier work: "it cannot be denied
that this joint work of Pope, Swift, and Arbuthnot, suggested to Sterne the plan of
Tristram Shandy ; — but how has he drawn it out! — how glow his colours in the vivid tints
of Nature!" (Howes 270). By citing Sterne's use of "color" as a differentiating quality of
Sterne's writing, Seward appeals to the vocabulary of the visual arts almost as if standard
critical language could not sufficiently explain the difference.
Seward also focuses on the ability of Sterne's descriptions to create both auditory and
visual sensations in the reader's mind, suggesting that "we see and hear the little domestic
group at Shandy-hall" (Howes 269). Everyone in the Shandy household, Seward
contends, "down to the fat scullion, lives — and they are, by those happy characteristic
touches, that mark the hand of genius, brought to our eye, as well as to our ear" (Howes
270). Although Seward cites only one scene that demonstrates Sterne's ability to appeal
directly to the senses to bring scenes to life, the same animating factor is a hallmark of all
his work, as demonstrated by the array of voices I have briefly outlined here.
Perhaps the least public, and yet most profuse, discussion of Sterne's technique in this
period is the marginalia written by John Scott, the Earl of Clonmell, between 1769 and
1789 in his copy of A Sentimental Journey . Paul Franssen, describing Clonmell's wide-
ranging commentary, states that "most prominent are his [Clonmell's] remarks on the
descriptive, pictorial element"; in addition, he "underlines many words in the text to bear
out the pictorial element" in Sterne's work. 6 Franssen' s meticulous cataloguing of
Clonmell's notes bears out his conclusions: "no fewer than 40 annotations consist only of
the word 'picture' by itself, and 20 times more he uses it in a longer phrase" (160). Some
of Clonmell's briefer remarks include concise visual references, such as "the Painter's
stroke" (162), while his longer marginal notes provide sometimes startling commentary on
the nature of the text-image dynamic. For example, after "The Letter. Amiens," Clonmell
observes that "nothing can furnish better Instances of humourous Description than this
Chapter, the minuteness with Which each Active particle is exactly described puts the
whole Picture before you ..." (163). 7 Clonmell is one of the few commentators at this
time to view Sterne's work within a tradition of literary pictorialism, pointing out that
"Milton seems to have laid y e foundation of Stern's Stile of painting in y e following
Observation, Each Motion formd Each Word . Describing Belial his great Model of
Oratory" (164). Clonmell's annotations are of particular value not only because, as
Franssen points out, he "is not a professional critic, but an ordinary (be it well-educated
and intelligent) man" (194), but also because of the extraordinary depth and range of his
commentary on Sterne's visuality.
Discussion of Sterne's works declined in the period from 1800 to 1840, perhaps due
to a decline in their overall popularity, a result of a shift in literary tastes, or simply the
natural evolution of popular works in the next generation (that is, before they achieve the
status of "classic") Undoubtedly, some of the dearth of critical commentary was also
influenced by assumptions about Sterne's personal life that threw a cast of immorality over
his work. In particular, unsavory rumors abounded about his treatment of his wife and
mother (the latter the inspiration for Byron's journal entry about "that dog Sterne, who
preferred whining over 'a dead ass to relieving a living mother' — villain — hypocrite —
slave — sycophant!" [Howes 346]). Although these stories tainted Sterne's reputation,
some critics, like Samuel Taylor Coleridge, were beginning to consider the work on its
own merit, separated from assumptions about the personal history of the author and his
age. If commentators were fewer in this period, those who did address Sterne's literary
merit in general — and the visuality important to this study, in particular — ventured into a
more detailed and thoughtful analysis than that produced by Sterne's contemporaries.
Many of the metaphors chosen by critics regarding Sterne's descriptions again suggest
the visual arts as a relevant parallel. Hugh Murray, in 1805, remarks that Sterne "excels
particularly in minute imagery, and the affecting detail of little incidents" (Howes 327),
though William Bulwer notes in 1863 that Sterne's "most exquisite characters are but
sketches and outlines." 9 An unsigned essayist in The Port Folio of 181 1 observes that a
trait of Sterne is "the vivid and distinct descriptions he gives us, not only of the peculiar
turns of thinking, but also of the speaker's person, and his peculiar attitudes in speaking.
With the exception of the inimitable Cervantes, it will be difficult to find another writer,
who, in this branch of composition, exceeds Laurence Sterne" (Howes 339). And in an
1818 lecture, Coleridge praises Sterne's expertise in depicting the "traits of human nature,
which so easily assume a particular cast and color from individual character" as well as his
expression of "all that happiest use of drapery and attitude, which at once gives the reality
by individualizing, and the vividness by unusual, yet probable, combinations." 10 Although
these critics do not specifically state that Sterne is drawing verbal pictures, they do
acknowledge the importance of his use of visual evocation in his creation of distinctive
Other commentators were more direct in comparing Sterne's techniques to those of a
visual artist. In 1821 Thomas Hood, upon seeing a distressed young woman, recalls that
Maria "came into my mind, exactly as Sterne had drawn her" (Howes 368). Analyzing
Sterne's visuality in detail, Richard Cumberland, in his Memoirs of 1806, observes that
Sterne's "real merit lies not only in his general conception of characters, but in the
address, with which he marks them out by those minute, yet striking, touches of his pencil,
that make his descriptions pictures, and his pictures life" (Howes 217). Using the older
definition of "pencil" as "paintbrush," Cumberland focuses on the attention Sterne pays to
visual details that allows his descriptions to move beyond mere verbal drawings ("that
make his descriptions pictures") to become part of an imagined reality ("his pictures life").
It seems to have been this pictorial quality that inspires Hood to make the comparison
between the real entity before him and the fictional Maria.
Employing a direct reference to painting in an essay for the 1810 British Novelists
series, Anna Laetitia Barbauld pinpoints a different aspect of Sterne's verbal-visual ability,
noting that he "resembles those painters who can give expression to a figure by two or
three strokes of bold outline, leaving the imagination to fill up the sketch" (Howes 332).
The more general metaphor of "painting" as "describing" is fairly common, however, such
as suggested by Charles- Athananais Walckenaer in the 1830 statement that "Sterne paints
mankind while seeming only to try to amuse his readers and to make sport of them and of
himself (Howes 415). This usage is echoed by Charles Nodier's 1830 observation that
"the good and discerning Yorick — as Sterne has painted himself — is a wise man with a
jovial and ever so slightly caustic spirit, but benevolent and urbane" (Howes 421). In
1822, Giovanni Ferri di S. Costante, however, only uses the idea of "painting" as a
synonym for physical depiction as a starting point: "It was Marivaux who gave the first
example of the genre of which Sterne was reputed creator, which consists of painting
human life with more truth, making visible in the heart of man a great number of rapid
movements, so that they can hardly be noticed" (Howes 466). The variety of visual
readings of Sterne's work not only attests to the widespread recognition of this quality,
but also demonstrates the range of visual elements that interest individual critics (that
catch their eyes, so to speak), as if they were actually viewing a painting and focusing on
different aspects for discussion.
The use of visual metaphor to describe Sterne's work can recall the author's use of
similar language, although such usage can also border on a generic language of
description. For instance, the anonymous writer of the critical essay in the 1807 Classic
Tales anthology, edited by Leigh Hunt, comments that Tristram Shandy "displays shrewd
observation, ready and genuine wit, and well-drawn character." 11 The visual aspects of
the characters' depictions are further emphasized here by observations like "Le Fleur is an
exquisitely painted child of nature" and that "the sorrows of Maria are touched with a
pencil as soft and captivating as her own melodious pipe" (280-81). The commentator
also sees Sterne's visuality as a means of capturing a more elusive quality of mankind,
citing "a spirit of humanity and benevolence [that] will find itself cherished by a variety of
scenes supplied by the sprightly or the sombre pencil" (281). The critic seems to
repeatedly return to the emotional value of the visual, implicitly suggesting its function as
a prompt to the reader's feelings.
Dominique- Joseph Garat, one of Sterne's most ardent French admirers, also furnishes
thoughtful observations on the visual aspects of his work. In his 1820 book, Memoires
historiques sur le XVIH e siecle et sur M. Suard . Garat often uses the common metaphor of
"paints" for "describes" as do other critics, but adapts the usage to a more complex — in
this case psychological — context, noting that "always himself torn between passions and
virtues, Sterne paints men as not apparently much in control of their actions and their
destinies" (Howes 410). Garat also recognizes the value of Sterne's ability to evoke
painterly pictures with words, pointing out that he
draws so clearly the things and the people he chances upon, he paints them with colors
so life-like, that you forget everything in the enchantment of the portraits and the
varied tableaux that he traces. He has the shading and the touch of all the great
schools and all the great masters — the pencils and the brushes of the Flemish, the
Romans, and the French follow each other in the style of an Englishman, too original
to be of any school and too filled with all the physical and moral impressions from
nature herself not to render them by turns with the most lifelike manners of all the
schools. (Howes 410)
Garat marks the success of Sterne's portrayals by their ability to dominate the reader's
thoughts: Sterne's technique "makes you forget everything." He also describes these
compelling characters with the terminology of painting, and strengthens the parallel
between the arts of painting and Sterne's writing by comparing Sterne himself favorably to
the most admired schools of painters. Sterne's visuality is, according to Garat, the ability
to gather "physical and moral impressions from nature herself," and his great virtue is the
ability to render "lifelike manners." Garat hints at the philosophical implications of
Sterne's realistic depictions with the astute remark, that "under the brush of Sterne, man is
not imprisoned; he is tossed about" (Howes 410).
Throughout his discussion of Sterne, Garat asserts that Sterne's descriptions of
"lifelike manners" paradoxically do not "capture" an image at all, but instead liberate the
image of man from the constraints of physical depiction. This is a key element in defining
Sterne's use of the visual in character description; Sterne does not provide the visual
instructions that create a concrete personage as do Fielding and Richardson, but rather
alludes to a few key defining elements that compose themselves variably in the reader's
mind, making the experience of imagining Sterne's "pictures" different for each reader. It
is Sterne's "sketching" of character in a "few strokes" (apparent in both his and Hogarth's
renditions of Dr. Slop) that enable multiplicities of images of this scene to thrive in the
imagination — and on paper as illustrations. This process comes about because, as Garat
seems to assert, the human figure is released from the "imprisonment" of complete
physical description in Sterne's work, and assumes completion in the mind of the reader.
Though far more cautious in his enthusiasm, Walter Scott, in an essay in his Lives of
Eminent Novelists and Dramatists (first published in 1823), also takes note of the visual
characteristics of Sterne's prose. Tristram Shandy , he states, "is no narrative, but a
collection of scenes, dialogues, and portraits, humorous or affecting, intermixed with
much wit, and with much learning, original or borrowed." 12 Although Scott seems to
disapprove of the structure of Sterne's fiction, he clearly finds individual visual elements
worthy of praise, such as the characters of Toby and Trim, which "are drawn with ... a
pleasing force and discrimination" and provide a "lively picture of kindness and
benevolence" (520). Sterne's ability to create a remarkable portrait, however, becomes
problematic for Scott, as he wrestles with the paradox of the excellence of Sterne's self-
depiction with his own opinion of the author's personal life. Scott recognizes "the general
likeness between the author and the child of his fancy" and he would "willingly pardon the
pencil, which, in the delicate task of self-delineation, has softened some traits of his own
features and improved others" (520). A similar ambiguity pervades Scott's statement that
"Yorick, the lively, witty, sensitive, and heedless Parson, is the well-known personification
of Sterne himself, and undoubtedly, like every portrait drawn of himself by a master of the
art, bore a strong resemblance to the original" (519). Again, Scott's recognition of the
visual element of Sterne's writing is mixed with a reluctance to concede Sterne's status as
a "master of the art."
Probably the most rigorous commentator on Sterne's visuality in this period was the
clergyman Edward Mangin, whose numerous letters on literary subjects were published in
1814 as a collection, A View of the Pleasures Arising From the Love of Books . Mangin' s
commentary, unlike Scott's, focuses almost exclusively on the text itself, and his applause
for Sterne's visuality is effusive; he remarks, for instance, that A Sentimental Journey
"abounds ... in fine specimens of what may be called the art of painting with his pen, in
which the author was a very great master: he exhibits on paper the talents of Carlo Dolce,
Vandyke, Teniers and Hogarth, and is often not inferior in composition, colouring and
truth to any of them." 13 Mangin not only makes a parallel with the visual arts, but even
touts the superiority of Sterne's verbal pictorialism over the abilities of several celebrated
Mangin also pinpoints individual scenes in Sterne's work for their particularly visual
elements. He states that, compared with the depiction of Maria, that of the Monk "is a full
length portrait by the same expert hand, but in a quite different taste from the last: no one
can for a moment doubt that it is from nature and from the life. The idea of a painting was
in Sterne's mind when he undertook to give his admirable likeness of Father Lorenzo"
(94-95). Sterne's painterly inclination is, of course, partially revealed by the text, which
states that the Monk had "one of those heads, which Guido has often painted"; 14 clearly,
though, Mangin is interested in building on the visual aspects of the passage. "The
drawing goes on incomparably," Mangin continues, "and is indeed worthy of Guido
himself (96). Mangin again implies the quality of Sterne's written portrait in comparison
to a painted or sculpted one: "This might be the outline of a picture or a statue, though
indeed of a fine one; but the author's concluding strokes give it life" (98).
Perhaps the most telling instance of the depth of Mangin's investigation into Sterne's
visuality is his concession that, due to the number of examples, "it would be wearisome to
collect and comment on all the instances which might be produced of Sterne's powers and
versatility" (98). 15 Significantly, Mangin's many observations on Sterne's visuality were
likely to have been influenced by his possession of the Earl of Clonmell's heavily
annotated edition of the work. 16
From 1840 through the early-twentieth century, critical discussion about Sterne's
work initially continued its quantitative decline, and then sparked to life again, the subject
of discussion for an increasingly "professional" cadre of literary commentators and
biographers (unfortunately for Sterne, a rather diaphanous line separated the two
categories) who occasionally became engaged at length with issues of rhetorical style.
Critical recognition of the strength of Sterne's use of visual elements in his writing
sometimes even survived the harshest judgments against the moral value of his text and
unsavory rumors about his life. For instance, in his lecture published in 1853, William
Makepeace Thackeray describes the scene of Tristram's meeting with Nannette as "a
landscape and figures, deliciously painted by one who had the keenest enjoyment and the
most tremulous sensibility," 17 but then paradoxically adds that this description (as well as
all of Sterne's writing) contains "a latent corruption — a hint, as of an impure presence"
(291) — he had, perhaps, shocked himself with his own sensuous description of Sterne's
visuality. It is almost as if Thackeray could not help but privately take pleasure in the
"picturesque and delightful parts" (270) of the work of the man he felt it necessary to
publicly condemn as a "wretched worn-out old scamp" (281).
Parallel to this perspective, however, was an increasing critical focus on Sterne's
writing as an entity worthy of analysis apart from the author's life, carrying on a tradition
begun in Sterne studies by Coleridge and Scott, and, more pertinently, by Clonmell and
Mangin. Percy Fitzgerald, writing a critical biography of Sterne in 1864 (revised thirty
years later), repeatedly cites the visual aspects of scenes and characters in Sterne's writing.
In reference to the sermon, "The case of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath considered,"
the first writing of Sterne to appear in print, Fitzgerald comments that in "describing the
scene where the child is restored to life" Sterne's "taste for painting breaks out, and he
pictures for his congregation the various figures of 'the piece'"; 18 for Fitzgerald, this use
of the visual clearly adds to the effectiveness of the parson's message. Later, Fitzgerald
records Sterne using a similar technique for a different purpose, as when Sterne "described
his new pastoral life to his friend Lee in a very tempting picture, like all his pictures"
(2:161). This example demonstrates Fitzgerald's view of Sterne's visuality; although he
does not comment directly on its impact, he does imply both the importance of the
technique and Sterne's talent for it. In addition, Fitzgerald states that "in his letters, too,
Mr Sterne gave little pictures, which show (as has been here so often insisted on) what a
literal romance of his life he meant Tristram to be" (2:24), he precisely captures Sterne's
ability to visualize scenes.
Fitzgerald echoes previous critics in his labeling of Sterne's characters as a "gallery of
original men and women" (1:153), and similarly sees the depiction of Slop as particularly
related to the form of visual caricature: Sterne, he notes, "was called on with
remonstrances, and even threats, to alter the personal strokes and colouring of his
portrait" of Yorkshire's Dr. Burton (1 : 122). In reference to Tristram Shandy . Fitzgerald
attributes to Sterne's visuality the ability to create a lasting impression on his audience.
There was a
fixed period of fame for him [Sterne] and his book, founded on the humours of the
four or five leading characters — my Uncle Toby, Mr and Mrs Shandy, Trim and Dr
Slop — these outlines have become fixed in the public mind, like the incidents and
characters in Don Quixote . These are so clear in their drawing, and have been so
much referred to and quoted, that they have become known and familiar, even for
those who have never seen or read the book. (1 : 168)
Sterne's method of "drawing" characters, which etches their figures in the public mind,
seems to be so effective, in fact, that they break free from the text that gave them birth (as
well as from the author himself) and become independent entities unto themselves.
Most of Fitzgerald's observations about Sterne's visuality concern descriptions in A
Sentimental Journey . The idea of the "picturesque" is prevalent throughout his
commentary, perhaps best exemplified by his remark that "over the incidents of the old
posting journeys from Calais up to Paris hangs a picturesque cloud. They are full of
colour and good scenic effect" (1:205); as if to emphasize his point, the word
"picturesque" is repeated five times in two pages.
Although Fitzgerald occasionally does use visual terminology to define the general
pattern of description in A Sentimental Journey — he notes, for instance, that Sterne's
"sketches of the old towns are dashed in as oddly and as quaintly as are their projecting
gables and twisting streets" (1:207) — his most explicitly "artistic" discussion refers to
particular moments in the work that were "illustrated" with words. Indeed, when
Fitzgerald describes the work as full of "charming sketches, with the bloom and fragrance
of the romantic south upon them, full of life and delicacy and colour" (2:23-24), he raises
the question whether it is even possible to characterize Sterne's descriptive writing
without depending on visual language to convey its vividness.
Fitzgerald comments at length on several individual scenes, "pleasant glimpses and
pictures" (2:27) that Sterne depicts. He appropriately responds to Sterne's description of
the innkeeper, M. Varennes, at the inn in Montreuil, who introduced him to Le Fleur, with
his own visual imagining: "We have even a sketch of the landlord, who corrected Mr
Sterne's French .... We see his rotund figure standing before Mr Sterne" (2:86). Among
many examples noted by Fitzgerald we can include his praise of the "pathetic picture of
'the Dead Ass' before the door of the post-house at Nampont" (2:87), and of Sterne's
pictorial technique at the end of Sentimental Journey , where "we have delightful little
glimpses, full of local colour and exquisite pastoral effect" (2:96). Fitzgerald also readily
crosses the boundary between the written and the visual arts in his discussion, noting that
Yorick and the grisset in the glove-shop constitute a "little scene which inspired Newton
with a fresh Leslie-like cabinet picture" (2:92), and that the scene of the farm family
readying for the Grace "makes a perfect pendant to that other picture which he saw in the
Bourbonnois, on his first journey" (2:96) — meaning, presumably, the contrasting
melancholy of the highly pictorial description of lone Maria.
Fitzgerald even frames his regret about Sterne's inability to continue his story in visual
terms, stating that, in regard to Sterne's unfulfilled plans to visit Spain, "we can only
regret the loss, for he has been so successful with his French brush: how he would have
revelled in the Spanish tints!" (2:40) Overall, perhaps Fitzgerald has the most visual
orientation of all previous critics, and, in addition to the numerous allusions to Sterne as a
visual artist, he uses the term "photograph" in describing a verbal sketch of a person or
scene (1:149), thus applying to Sterne's ability to capture a visual essence in words, a
relatively new technology.
The Reverend Whitwell Elwin includes Sterne in his lengthy 1 902 study, Some XVIII
Century Men of Letters , declaring that "no novelist has surpassed Sterne in the vividness
of his descriptions, in the skill with which he selects and groups the details of his finished
scenes" and that he has "a rare power of delineation by slight and easy touches." 19
Although his treatment of Sterne is brief in comparison to Fitzgerald's, Elwin nonetheless
not only comments on instances of Sterne's visuality, but also explores how the technique
functions to generate sympathy in the reader. Elwin cites Dugald Stewart's comment
regarding the description of the Captive as a "beautiful illustration of the power of the
imagination in conjuring up circumstances which awaken sensibility," and continues,
"they must, indeed, be master-strokes which in half a dozen sentences could convey such
an intense impression of the miseries of a dungeon" (76). Elwin's invocation of Stewart's
theory suggests a continuing effort by Sterne's readers to explain the success of the
sentimental in his works in visual terms, and perhaps helps us understand why so many
illustrators, early and late, have been compelled to re-portray these scenes. Here, too,
Elwin hits upon the paradox of Sterne's minimal descriptions that produce vivid pictures;
the reconciliation between minimalism and vividness might exist in the imagination, but,
perhaps, it is not Sterne's, but the reader's, that actually paints the picture.
In contrast to the bias toward the pictorial in Sentimental Journey evidenced by
previous critics, most of Elwin's discussion instead revolves around the visual aspects of
Tristram Shandy . Defending Sterne against attacks on his originality, he uses visual
description in his contention (mentioned previously by Seward) that "the crude outline of
the character of Uncle Toby's brother is clearly borrowed from that of the elder
Scriblerus, but it is filled up with a dramatic skill to which the original has no pretension"
(53). More importantly, perhaps, Elwin uses visual language as a means to describe why
the portrayal of Uncle Toby deserves special praise:
The strokes with which the portraits [of Toby] are drawn are altogether so deep and
yet so delicate, so truthful and yet so novel, so simple in outline and yet so varied in
the details, so comical and yet so charming, that it may be questioned if, out of
Shakespeare, there is a single character in English fiction depicted with greater or even
equal power. (56)
Using the visual metaphor to a more complex end, Elwin offers insight into the effect of
Tristram Shandy on the reader: the text is "full of interior meanings which escape the mind
on a rapid perusal, and the interest is sustained, and the pleasure increased, by the
numerous beauties which keep rising into view the longer we linger over the work. It is a
kindred merit that he shines in painting by single strokes" (69). The carefully extended
metaphor of painting becomes not only a means to describe Sterne's technique of writing,
but suggests a way to appreciate the text; both a painting and Tristram Shandy respond to
a similarly patient "eye" which is appreciative of detail.
Although Walter Bagehot claims only a few years after Elwin that Tristram Shandy is
"a book without plan or order" and is "in every generation unfit for analysis," 21 he too
succumbs to the temptation of praising Sterne's visuality; Sterne has, proclaims Bagehot,
"fine sensibility" and an "exquisite power of entering into and of delineating plain human
nature" (303). Bagehot asserts that "there is no better painting of first and easy
impressions than [in A Sentimental Journey ]" (297), and that, specifically, the scene of Le
Fever in Tristram Shandy is "the portrait-painting of the heart. It is as pure a reflection of
mere natural feeling as literature has ever given, or will ever give. The delineation is
nearly perfect" (288-89). Bagehot echoes previous critics in his observation that the
visual elements in Sterne's work function as a conduit to feeling, and in the process
reveals his own profound response to Le Fever's "nearly perfect" portrayal.
To Bagehot, Sterne's talent at visual depiction can make sentiment transcend its
possibly unsavory physicality: he notes that "the feeling which would probably be coarse in
the reality is refined in the picture" (289). But, in contrast to his approval of several
examples of Sterne's visuality, Bagehot's overall enthusiasm is clearly limited; "here the
great excellence of Sterne ends as well as begins .... It is an imperative law of the writing
art," he insists, with an eye toward form, "that a book should go straight on" (289).
The extensive biography of Sterne by H. D. Traill in 1 882 catalogues many instances
of visual writing, at times describing their pictorial aspects in great detail, a reflection of
Traill's belief in the author's "insight into character and his graphic power." 22 An unusual
comment regarding visuality in the Memoirs notes that the depiction of Roger Sterne "is
touched in with strokes so vivid and characteristic that critics have been tempted to find in
it the original of the most famous portrait in the Shandy gallery"; it is "a captivating little
picture" (8). Traill also identifies the persona generated by a Sterne letter as a "self-
painted portrait" (51).
Following the lead of other Victorian critics, Traill focuses on Sterne's portrayal of the
residents of the Shandy parlor as particularly evocative of the visual. He notes that "the
two most elaborate portraits" in the first volume of Tristram Shandy are "the admirable
but very flatteringly idealized sketch of the author himself in Yorick, and the Gilrayesque
caricature of Dr. Slop" (36), which he later identifies as a "burlesque portrait" of the real-
life Dr. Burton (41). Traill's reference to the well-known political cartoonist James
Gillray (1757-1815) draws an interesting and previously unexplored parallel between
Sterne's images and those of eighteenth-century political cartoonists. Traill's more
detailed observation that "before we reach the end of the first volume, the highly
humorous if extravagantly idealized figure of Mr. Shandy takes bodily shape and
consistency before our eyes" (44) is a recognition of Sterne's compelling verbal depiction
of character that is similar to the visual imperative noted in Chapter 1 in reference to the
sermons. Traill also pauses to examine Sterne's depiction of Toby, which is "one of the
most perfect and delightful portraits" in "the gallery of English fiction" (37). And, to
express the impact of this example of Sterne's characterization, Traill again clearly evokes
the visual arts: "an artist may put a hundred striking figures upon his canvas for one that
will linger in the memory of those who have gazed upon it; and it is after all, I think, the
one figure of Captain Tobias Shandy which has graven itself indelibly on the memory of
mankind" (168). Here and elsewhere, the frequency of, and similarity between, the
various discussions about Sterne's use of the visual suggests the possibility that Traill and
others are thoughtlessly evoking stale tropes of appreciation and nothing more. The
nature of the tropes chosen and their very consistent return to visuality seems to indicate
as much about the nature of criticism as it does about Sterne's texts. At the same time,
however, the very sameness of the remarks begins to define something unique about
Sterne — not only his visuality, but how he uniquely creates pictures in the reader's
Traill calls the seventh volume of Tristram Shandy a "series of travel-pictures" (80),
asserting that the "sketches of travel" in this volume, "though destined to be surpassed in
vigour and freedom of draftsmanship, by the Sentimental Journey , are yet excellent" (89).
He singles out the story of the Abbess and her novice in particular as an exercise in visual
writing, noting that, although the scene has a tendency toward bawdiness, it is "quite
perversely skilful" as "a mere piece of story-telling, and even as a study in landscape and
figure painting" (90); that is, a passage that is particularly evocative of the visual arts. In
his analysis of this passage, Traill implies the redemptive role of visual elements in
justifying what he sees as questionable elements in Sterne's work, as the details of the
passage "bring the whole scene before the eye so vividly" that it could simply have been "a
piece of his characteristic persiflage" (90).
Perhaps because the work was frequently viewed with suspicion in Victorian society,
Traill seems generally less interested in exploring the function of its visual rhetoric in A
Sentimental Journey . The people described in A Sentimental Journey , he notes, "make up
a surprising collection of distinct and graphic characters" that are "touched with wonderful
art"; the monk, in particular, is "one of the most artistic figures on literary canvas," a
reminder of Sterne's references to painting in his description. Traill also reflects on
Sterne's technique of verbal "sketching," noting, with what had become a commonplace,
that the minor characters are "touched in with only a couple of strokes" (119).
As with Tristram Shandy . Traill does not merely catalogue observations of Sterne's
visuality, but makes special efforts to evaluate the visual quality of scenes; regarding the
starling episode, for example, he suggests that "the details of the picture are too much
insisted on, and there is too much of self-consciousness in the artist" (165). Though he
finds its execution occasionally flawed, Traill acknowledges the importance of Sterne's
"draughtsmanship," which, "whether as exhibited in the rough sketch or in the finished
portrait, is unquestionably most vigorous" (168). Like Bagehot, Traill also identifies
Sterne's examples of verbal "painting" with his best writing, noting that "when Sterne the
artist is uppermost, when he is surveying his characters with that penetrating eye of his,
and above all when he is allowing his subtle and tender humour to play upon them
unrestrained, he can touch the springs of compassionate emotion in us with a potent and
unerring hand" (166). Here the "hand" of the writer is nearly synonymous with that of the
visual artist, blurring the defining line between the two, much as Sterne does in his writing.
More important, perhaps, is Traill's observation (similar to Elwin's) that it is specifically
the visual elements of Sterne's writing which act upon the reader's sympathy.
Three critics of this period — Leslie Stephen, Thomas Seccombe, and Charles
Whibley — comment on Sterne's visuality only briefly and in general terms, but each has
something important to observe. Referring to Sterne's ability to "paint" with words,
Stephen notes that "one can hardly read the familiar passages without admitting that
Sterne was perhaps the greatest artist in the language." 25 Seccombe echoes this sentiment
by making a direct comparison between Sterne's outstanding depiction of characters and
"a few of the canvases of Jan Steen," which have "something of the same power to arrest
one by their striking animation and fidelity to the life." 24 Whibley, calling Sterne "a master
of the picturesque," also uses terminology borrowed from the visual arts to emphasize
Sterne's fidelity to nature: "Even when he coloured his observation with caricature, he still
drew from life." 25 Although these varied comparisons might be the result of the individual
responses to Sterne's visual rhetoric, they also attest to Sterne's creative complexity,
which can be seen as suggesting (as well as defying) different visual conventions.
Without asserting that any one of the three qualifies as a subtle critic in modern eyes
(and we will seem equally naive, perhaps, a century from now), it is interesting to note
how Jan Steen' s Dutch realism and the contemporary picturesque serve as attempts to find
a visual analogue to a mode of visual description that eludes straightforward analysis.
While implying that the range of interpretations of Sterne's visuality is the result of the
different responses it creates in different readers' minds (which may be seen represented in
many of the illustrations I will allude to in the course of this study), this observation also
suggests Sterne's playful interest in defying creative conventions; for instance, in his
descriptions of Trim reading the sermon (discussed at length in Chapter 1). Sterne shows
an awareness of working within the tradition of literary pictorialism while simultaneously
satirizing that very tradition.
The most detailed observations from these three critics — all writing between 1 890 and
1910 — involve the rendering of the residents of Shandy Hall, and their visitor, Dr. Slop.
Stephen's comments about the visual description of Walter, Toby, and Dr. Slop in the
parlor is worth examining at length:
The imaginative humourist sets before us a delicious picture of two or three concrete
human beings, and is then able at one stroke to deliver a blow more telling than the
keenest flashes of the dry light of the logical understanding. The more one looks into
the scene and tries to analyse the numerous elements of dramatic effect to which his
total impression is owing, the more one admires the astonishing skill which has put so
much significance into a few simple words. The colouring is so brilliant and the touch
so firm that one is afraid to put any other work beside it. Nobody before or since has
had so clear an insight into the meaning which can be got out of a simple scene by a
judicious selection and skilful arrangement of the appropriate surroundings. 26
In his detailed observation of Sterne's "delicious picture," Stephen not only describes the
writing in visual terms, but also evaluates Sterne's text as a kind of picture in order to
describe the text's particular effectiveness. That is, Stephen does not seem as interested in
the de facto existence of Sterne's visuality as in the result it produces in the reader.
Stephen links the text's effectiveness in this regard to Sterne's minimalistic technique of
the visual, which is able to "deliver a blow more telling than the keenest flashes of the dry
light of logical understanding"; in other words, Sterne's method provokes an emotional
reaction from the reader, using brief but precise details that depict a credible reality in the
crucible of the reader's mind. This ability of Sterne to put "much significance into a few
simple words" is conceived as a visual process by Stephen, perhaps because of Sterne's
content, or perhaps because the visual analogue offers the best (though still imperfect)
means of describing the process by which Sterne's writing affects us, the readers. This is
further suggested by Stephen's statement praising Sterne's "judicious selection and skilful
arrangement of the appropriate surroundings"; again, visual parallels provide a means to
describe Sterne's technique of careful composition, but, of course, Sterne is not painting a
picture. Stephen's commentary lays bare the critical tendency to frame Sterne's text in
visual terms, an imperfect but somewhat functional means of expressing its effectiveness in
moving the reader's imagination.
The importance of the visual aspect of Sterne's writing occurs to Seccombe in
hindsight, as he examines certain perceived deficiencies of A Sentimental Journey , where
"one misses irremediably the Shandean group of portraits. It is, it seems to us, in the
marvellous distinctness with which these creations detach themselves from his too
bespattered and often confused canvas that Sterne's grandeur really lies." Using
pictorial language, Seccombe suggests that the contrast provided by the less acceptable
elements (those "bespattered" and "confused" parts) enhances the more positive, visual
aspects of Sterne's writing. While praising Sterne's admirable ability to create distinct
portraits, Seccombe' s mention of his negative traits hints at George Saintsbury's summary
of the pattern the discussion of Sterne took during this period: "it has become a
commonplace and almost a necessity to make up for praising Sterne's genius by damning
his character." 28 In fact, Seccombe uses the contrast created by these positive attributes of
Sterne's writing to blacken even further what he sees as its questionable aspects: "Amid
affectation, tediousness, leering, and obscenity, we come to passages relating to these
remarkable figures which stand out like chefs-d'oeuvre in a large gallery of uninspired
replicas and other fifth-rate compositions." 29 Although he lauds the effectiveness of the
"Shandean group of portraits," it is difficult to say whether, in the end, Seccombe
advances our understanding of Sterne's visuality at all, or merely wields it as a tool to
discredit the elements he did not like in Sterne's writing. 30
The prominent portraits of the Shandy brothers represent a standard of comparison for
Charles Whibley, who asserts: "Dr. Slop, the man-midwife, the honest, sensitive Corporal,
the alluring Widow Wadman, even Susanna [sjc] and Bridget — are they not all drawn with
as sure a hand as the Shandy brothers, if with less distinction than that noble pair?" At
least for Whibley, the rendering of the Shandy brothers provides a standard for discussion
of the verbal "painting" of character, again not in positive terms, but as a result of his
criticism of what he sees as less laudable characters in the work; one wonders if he would
praise the "noble pair" in relation to, say, the paragons of virtue Clarissa or Pamela, in
quite the same way.
Although there are differences in their observations, the focus by these three critics on
the family gatherings of Tristram Shandy might reflect a general disinterest in other parts
of the work (which might have been seen as verging on more risque content) as well as in
Sentimental Journey . Stephen's use of a visual metaphor to make this moral concern clear
seems to reinforce a general critical approach that makes the pictorial central in the
discernment of moral value: "When we think of Sterne as a man, and try to frame a
coherent picture of his character, we must give a due weight to the baser elements of his
Some critics in this period, however, show an increasing willingness to investigate
Sterne and his writings without condemning either for moral transgression. Writing in his
study of the English novel, Sterne's first great champion, Wilbur L. Cross, notes that
Sterne "enlarged for the novelist the sphere of character-building, by bringing over into
fiction the pose and the attitude of the sculptor and the painter." 33 Although he did not
expand on this idea in his introduction to his ground-breaking 1904 edition of Sterne's
Works , he would treat it at length later in his Life of Sterne ; overall, Cross's careful
examination provides a vital model for future investigation of Sterne's life and work.
In his Sterne: A Study , Walter Sichel tries to distinguish between Sterne the man and
Sterne the author, an attempt perhaps best demonstrated by his isolation of textual
discussion in a separate chapter entitled, "Sterne's Authorship"; Sichel may have been the
first critic of Sterne's work clearly to separate the two entities in such a fashion. His
evaluation of Sterne's style shows a careful analysis of his text, and he points to several
instances of what he calls "word-painting" and "word-colour." 34 He draws an intriguing
parallel between the verbal and the visual, for example, when he notes Sterne's visual
effectiveness as a kind of "miniaturist" of portraits — his "power of reducing large outlines
with effect" and "his predilection for small pieces" — which were "imaged by the
duodecimos which held them" (207). In other words, Sterne's "miniature manner" of
description is mirrored by the compact size of the volumes used for the early editions of
his work; this will be an insight worth pursuing in terms of the busy canvases of many of
Sterne's illustrators, precisely because they had to include so many details from the text in
a relatively small space — in the case of the earliest book illustrations, roughly three by five
inches in size.
Painterly comparisons predominate in Sichel' s discussion, such as his observation that
Sentimental Journey "deals with the small amenities of life, and paints them in pastel"
(187). To Sichel, Sterne is an "impressionist" who uses "the method, or rather the spirit,
of suggestion, as opposed to the method, or rather the substance, of description. Its
appeal is associative" (173). The element of association, of course, is linked to Sterne in
other ways, but Sichel's assertion of Sterne's use of visual "suggestion" may hint at a
reason for his success in pictorial description. Sichel seems so enthusiastic over Sterne's
visuality, in fact, that he wrestles the English language to express his observations: for
example, referring to Sterne's depiction of character, Sichel comments that he
"picturesques attitude with unique grace and concentration" (186).
Tristram's description (also praised by Thackeray) in Volume VII of Tristram Shandy ,
of the nymphs and swains he meets on his journey from Nismes and Lunelle is of particular
interest to Sichel; he notes that the scene "glows like a pastoral by Gainsborough, and
perhaps best illustrates Sterne's artistry in word-painting" (178). In another instance,
Sichel refers to the meeting between Maria and Tristram and asks, "Could any impression
be more delicately rendered?" (181). He continues: "What a subject for a painter! Yet
what artist could match the author?" (182). Certainly Sichel would have known of the
many visual renditions of Maria and Tristram, both as prints and book illustrations
(although they were outnumbered by depictions of Yorick and Maria, or Maria alone), so
the question is not a rhetorical device, but rather an assertion of the superiority of the
visual aspect of Sterne's written text to any and all actual physical depictions, past,
present, or future.
There is, perhaps, even greater praise available than asserting the strength of Sterne's
text over painting or drawing. To make this further point, Sichel cites a passage from
Tristram Shandy : "to behold upon the banks advancing and retiring, the castles of
romance, whence courteous knights have whilome rescued the distress' d and see
vertinginous, the rocks, the mountains, the cataracts, and all the hurry which Nature is in
with all her great works about her " 35 "The last sentence," Sichel asserts, "gives more
than tints: it pictures thought" (184). Here the critic sees this verbal expression as a direct
projection of impressions and ideas, and suggests that visual rhetoric can act as a nearly
transparent means of conveyance, a Momus's glass into the mind.
After providing many such varied observations of Sterne's use of visual language,
Sichel declares: "As an artist he endures. As an artist he is palpable and living" (289).
Not only does Sichel divorce biographical information that had previously obscured some
criticism of Sterne from his work, but he also recognizes that Sterne's work has lasting
aesthetic value — secured in the language of the visual.
Critics throughout the twentieth century follow Cross and Sichel in their general
willingness to move away from the biographically tainted discussion of Sterne to a more
rigorous analysis of his texts, with notable exceptions like F. R. Leavis. The first part of
the twentieth century also marks the continuation of Sichel' s expansion of critical
discussion of Sterne's visuality into areas of specific critical application, as well as the
onset of analyses of particular visual renditions of Sterne's work; although critical
approaches changed, the observation of Sterne's visuality persisted. In 1921, the Russian
formalist Victor Shklovsky, for instance, who declares that Tristram Shandy is "the most
typical novel in world literature" because of the similarity between its content and its form,
suggests a visual parallel to the book's structure, noting that "the disorder is intentional
.... it is strictly regulated, like a picture by Picasso." 36
It is useful to consider here how critical parallels drawn between Sterne's work and
visual analogues, such as the example Shklovsky provides, perhaps exemplify a long
history of the inadequacy of the comparison implied by the idea of ut pictura poesis .
Sterne seems always to be compared to the best artists of the time of the commentator,
rather than to one particularly appropriate tradition; since he obviously cannot actually
reflect every mode of visual style, the comparison seems emptied of content.
In his two discussions in the late 1920s, J. B. Priestley's observation that Sterne
"approached life with a large reading-glass up to his eye" is an appropriate metaphor for
his own recognition of the visual value of the details in Sterne's writing. The "reading-
glass" also serves Priestley as an apt vehicle for differentiating the style of Sterne from
Richardson, who "is simply taking care not to omit the smallest details in his large
scheme"; Sterne, on the other hand, "goes to work, and in an entirely different spirit,
simply on the details, enlarging and colouring them." 37 This paralleling of pictorial
methods also suggests that Sterne's humor and exuberance ("enlarging and colouring"),
contrasts in an almost visual sense with the more austere style of Richardson. Priestley's
emphasis on Sterne's details here echoes Stephen's observation, although Priestley hints at
the comic and indiscreet potential of Sterne's "enlarging" elements of his picture. Sterne
himself justifies the inclusion of hyperbolic detail in his fiction as part of its satiric effect.
In a letter, Sterne responded to criticism that he overindulged in detail when describing
Slop's fall: "that very thing should constitute the humour, which consists in treating the
most insignificant Things with such Ornamenta ambitiosa . as would make one sick in
another place." 38 However, Sterne seems to be very selective in his exaggerated use of
minutiae, usually offering "strokes" of a picture rather than furnishing an entire scene with
exact description — thus, in some ways, very unlike a Dutch painter.
Like many critics before him, Priestley sees the depiction of character as the most
successful specific application of Sterne's visuality, and goes on to discuss its effectiveness
in detail. He comments that Sterne makes "people distinct to us, sharply outlined against
the higgedly-piggedly background" and that he "has no master in this method of creating
character" (xi). Priestley's recognition that Toby is a particularly successful visual
evocation, also the subject of previous critical discussion, is reflected in his repeated
references to the compelling qualities of Sterne's verbal depictions of him:
Toby appeals to the eye; we can see him, parading for the Wadman campaign ... he
cuts a fine figure in the imagination, limping past to the widow's or conducting one of
his dream-sieges from the sentry-box or puffing at his pipe, his red beaming foolish
face all aglow, at his brother's fireside. Such little pictures do not easily fade out of
the memory. 39
We can see Toby in his hat with the tarnished gold-lace, his blue and gold coat that
was rather too small for him, and his red plush breeches; and the picture is completed
by his pipe and sentry-box and fortified bowling-green. Mr. Shandy does not offer the
imagination so many clear outlines and so much colour. (Introduction xi-xii)
Toby is as solid and unmistakable as a hill. At any moment, we can see him in his
faded regimentals, with his lame leg and crutch, very complacently smoking his pipe by
the fire. ("Brothers" 144)
Priestley's consistent quotation of visual descriptions of Toby, while perhaps revealing his
own preferences in the text, also echoes critical recognition of Sterne's tendency to use
visual touches to create descriptions of particular characters and scenes addressed to the
sentimental, an approach that is readily apparent in his drawing of Toby's character.
There is a hint, too, of the forcefulness of Sterne's renderings — the idea of the visual
imperative again — as they imprint themselves on the imagination: Priestley notes that they
"do not easily fade out of the memory."
Except for some sketchy previous discussion about Hogarth's illustrations for Tristram
Shandy . Priestley seems to be the first critic actively to engage in weighing the relationship
of the book's illustrations (in Priestley's edition, drawn by John Austen) to the text: he
observes that, with his drawings, the artist is "catching another aspect" of the Shandys,
and Priestley recognizes their significance: "These drawings of his, since they are more
than idle pieces of decoration, tell us a great deal." Priestley sees Austen's artwork as the
product of a specific cultural mode: "Fifty years ago he [Austen] would have done very
different drawings, would not have chosen these particular moments for illustration"
(Introduction v). This suggestion, that illustrations can be seen as signaling changing
interpretations of the text, anticipates more detailed discussion along these lines in the
future, including, of course, this study.
The great turning point of Sterne studies, along with the 1904 edition of Works , was
Cross's scholarly biography, first published in 1909 and revised in two subsequent editions
of 1925 and 1929; without doubt, this work on Sterne's life and canon, along with
Curtis' s Letters in 1935, made possible all that has followed in Sterne studies in the
twentieth century. Hence it is important to note that Cross goes to great lengths to
establish Sterne's pervasive and continuing interest in the visual arts throughout his life,
including the documentation of own efforts at painting and drawing. Cross examines
several artworks attributed to Sterne, a supposed caricature of his wife; "The Montebank
and his Macaroni" (probably co-painted with Thomas Bridges); and a "jolly tail-piece" of
two cocks fighting (which was possibly used in the original publication of A Political
Romance). In addition, Cross also notes Sterne's acquaintance with the painters
Christopher Steele and George Romney (the latter painted four scenes from Tristram
Shandy , now lost), the copy of A Sentimental Journey that Sterne was rumored to have
illustrated for his friends, and the possibility (now disproved) that engravings of classical
subjects signed "L. Stern [sic] del Romae" were his work. 40
Cross's commentary on the textual evidence of Sterne's experience in the visual arts
is simple and lucid: "That Sterne was a painter before he wrote Tristram Shandy , must
have been surmised by every reader of the book; for he therein employs so easily the
technical terms of the art for running up parallels on the mechanics of literary expression,
or for describing the poise and movement of his characters" (1 : 105). Although Clonmell
and Mangin were perceptive analysts of Sterne's visuality, the simplicity of the connection
Cross observes belies the 150 years it took for it to be made; finally, Sterne criticism was
able to abandon some of the malicious myths surrounding his life (thanks in no small part
to Cross himself) and begin to explore the ways in which that life emerged in his writings.
Although Cross thus opens the door to the broad recognition of the visual in Sterne's
fictions, the actual application of this idea in his biography of the author is limited. In fact,
it is the visual aspect of Sterne's sermons that have the most particular attraction for
Cross; he notes that Sterne's sermons are "a whole series of portraits drawn with a few
strokes from his own experience and observation. Sometimes a sermon consists of a
single character-sketch rendered in fUll detail; it may be Job or Herod" (1 :227). These
"portraits" form a critical element in Cross's idea of the sermons themselves, which he
sees as being made up of "graphic and pathetic pictures, flowing on in a well-ordered
series" (2:62). The effectiveness of Sterne's creation of visualized tableaus in his sermons
invites comparison with another "projected" art: the stage drama. The careful
arrangement of verbal pictures in Sterne's sermons simulates the composition within a
stage proscenium in a manner which differs markedly from his verbal pictorialism for
comic effect. Overall, although Cross did not apply this insight into Sterne's visuality to
his other works, he does point us toward the potential development of the subject.
Commenting about Sterne's style in his 1929 study of the novel, E. A. Baker expands
on Cross's observations, weaving the discussion of the text into a psychological profile of
the author. Arguing that "visual sensations were to him [Sterne] the keenest," Baker
analogizes Sterne's philosophy with the visual arts, stating that "sensation and emotion
constitute his mental life; they are also the box of colours with which he paints." To
Baker, this observation that Sterne "paints" with "sensation and emotion" is not an
isolated point of analysis, but rather an opening into his extended discussion of Sterne's
verbal pictorialism. He notes, for example, that Sterne had a "contagious delight in
pictorial effects, more vivid than any narrative," 41 and provides specific examples of
especially visual descriptions from A Sentimental Journey to support his assertion; the
"vignettes" he cites — which include those depicting the monk, the grisette, her husband,
and the fille de chambre — have, perhaps not coincidentally, frequently been the subjects of
book illustrations, as well. While critics of the previous century, such as Thackeray, felt
the need to shield themselves from Sterne's personality in order to enjoy his verbal
pictorialism, Baker finds a close connection between the author and his work.
Noting that "scores of similar pictures leap to the eye" in Sterne's work (264), Baker
carefully examines the technique behind Sterne's success with visual elements. Especially
significant to Baker is the manner in which Sterne "paints" with words, seizing
"impressions at their very birth, in all their freshness and vividness" (266). This
observation, reminiscent of Tristram's interest in "seizing every handle, of what size or
shape soever, which chance held out to me" 42 in his continental travels, emphasizes the
seeming spontaneity of Sterne's verbal pictorialism. Baker defines this type of visuality as
"impressionism" that parallels the style in painting: "The writer simply sets down the
impressions received by an onlooker, the reactions of his consciousness to outward
things" (264). The dance with Nannette and the tale of Le Fever, Baker continues, are
outstanding examples of this type of rendering, "two gems of impressionist art" (265).
Baker asserts that the visual element is only part of this technique, however: "instead of a
reasoned and coherent picture of the world, as if contemplated by the eye of omniscience,
Sterne gives the impressions of sight, sound, contact, atmosphere, as they strike upon the
mind" (265-66). In declaring Sterne an impressionist, Baker echoes Sichel, but in both
cases the use of the term raises questions about the applicability of any visual analogue;
can Sterne be both a Dutch-style realist, meticulously detailing domestic scenes, and an
early-twentieth-century impressionist, recording a highly personalized perspective, at the
same time? Again, the impossibility of defining a consistent visual parallel to Sterne's
style reminds us that he is not drawing a picture after all, but writing descriptions of
imagined pictures. The legend on Rene Magritte's La Trahison des images (The
Treachery of Images ). "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" ("This is not a pipe") can be seen as
illustrating a fallacy similar to the one committed by the critics. Magritte pokes fun at the
tendency to mistake an image for the object it represents, while literary discussion of
Sterne's work, time and time again, treats verbal descriptions as if they were visual ones.
In the Introduction to the 1929 edition she edited, Leslie Stephen's daughter, Virginia
Woolf, defines A Sentimental Journey as "a succession of portraits" rather than a linear,
plot-driven work; in the depiction of these portraits, she points out, Sterne was able to
"cultivate a kind of shorthand which renders the several turns of looks and limbs into plain
words." 43 This observation, of course, paraphrases Yorick's declaration of his skill at
physiognomy in Sentimental Journey that he is "master of this short hand , and . . . quick in
rendering the several turns of look and limbs, with all their inflections and delineations,
into plain words." 44 As I have remarked in Chapter 1, the verbal "translation" (as Yorick
calls it ) of physical movement into verbal expression is central to Sterne's visuality.
Woolf, however, sees Sterne's skill at physiognomy as having an inverse effect; thus, she
asserts in a 1932 essay, he "transfers our interest from the outer to the inner" 46 instead of
the other way around. In other words, Sterne's visual depiction of character acts as an
agent which transfers the reader's interest from physical appearance to internal qualities of
Significantly, several critics have used distinctly modern analogies in their attempts to
describe Sterne's use of the visual. The novelist Elizabeth Bowen, for instance, states that
Tristram Shandv is (perhaps paradoxically) "dementedly natural in its course, surrealist in
its association of images." 47 Albert Baugh, on the other hand, compares the work to
"comic-strip drawings," and compliments Sterne's talent at portraying "small scenes-
snapshots one might call them." 48 In his discussion of the passage describing Trim
dropping his hat in the kitchen, Arnold Kettle finds a tentative parallel between Sterne's
visuality and the theater: "This is not merely brilliant comic drama, very much of a scene
with the simultaneous actions and reactions of several characters contrasted, grouped,
individualised and, at the same time, brought together interpenetrating; it does things
which the stage cannot ever do." 49 The parallels with dreams, comic strips, photographs,
and the stage all do indeed capture aspects of Sterne's visual descriptions, but as Kettle
suggests, these analogues can only describe part of their impact. Moreover, the shifting
nature of the parallels to whatever is the latest art form suggests a flaw in the analogy
itself (or perhaps only a flaw in literary criticism): we "see" a literary work through the
operative metaphors that provide basic guidelines to an age's aesthetic understanding, but
which, by their very nature, cloud the work as much as they elucidate it.
In his 1949 Introduction for Tristram Shandy . John Cowper Powys — who wrote
introductions to lavishly illustrated editions of both Tristram Shandy and Sentimental
Journey — hints at Sterne's use of the visual to compel his audience to participate in his
text, explaining that "to Maria's side the reader is . . . led, as if he were a pensive
background loiterer in some tender eighteenth-century 'Landscape with Figures.'" 50 The
image of Maria in Sentimental Journey plays a special role in Powys's analysis: "At the
moment, I have three versions in different print before me as I contemplate this scene and
one of these ... has the picture of Maria on the arm of the Traveller, while in his other
hand he holds, so I like to think, the pocket handkerchief marked with an 'S' for
Shandy." Powys's act of supplementing his discussion of Sterne's text with visual
depictions of it can be seen as a strategy to assign a concrete quality to Sterne's Protean
visuality in order to facilitate discussion; this approach directly anticipates my study by
using illustrations as a means to broaden our understanding of Sterne's work.
As we cross mid-century, Sterne's visuality becomes a characteristic of generic
identification for Ian Watt in The Rise of the Novel . He argues that "Sterne's narrative
mode gives very careful attention to all the aspects of formal realism: to the
particularisation of time, place and person; to a natural and lifelike sequence of action; and
to the creation of a literary style that gives the most exact verbal and rhythmical equivalent
possible of the object described." In contrast to assertions by Sichel and Baker of Sterne's
impressionism, Watt defines Sterne's tendency toward visual description as a
manifestation of realism. Watt's argument about the "rise of the novel" in empirical
realism demands seeing Sterne as Jan Steen rather than Auguste Renoir; although a
picture is supposed to be worth a thousand words, the fact remains that words often
create what we think we "see." Thus, even by Watt's reckoning, this idea of "realism" is
inherently flexible; many of the scenes in Tristram Shandy . Watt states, "achieve a living
authenticity that combines Defoe's brilliant economy of suggestion with Richardson's
more minutely discriminated presentation of the momentary thoughts, feelings and
gestures of his characters." 52 Watt's comparison of Sterne's visual techniques with those
of Defoe and Richardson ultimately weaken his argument, however, inasmuch as the
distinctive elements of "visual realism" become so variable an idea that it can be applied
equally to writers with very different styles.
The multitude of visual designations attached to Sterne's visuality raises important
questions about how his text creates a location for variable responses on the part of
readers. The idea that Sterne's texts contain a reflexive element which is determined by
the readers themselves is suggested by Sterne on several occasions in Tristram Shandy .
For example, Sterne claims that writing "is but a different name for conversation ... no
author, who understands the just boundaries of decorum and good breeding, would
presume to think all: The truest respect which you can pay to the reader's understanding,
is to halve this matter amicably, and leave him something to imagine, in his turn, as well
as yourself" 53 As a component of his text, Sterne's visuality appears to have a similarly
reflexive quality, which serves to tell us as much about the commentator as the texts being
discussed. Critics have seen Sterne variously as realist, mannerist, impressionist,
surrealist, the creator of "comic-strip drawings," photographer, and dramatist; this shifting
model indicates the multitude of visual perspectives Sterne's visuality creates, and the
range of these perspectives suggests that each is anchored within an age, or culture, which
helped to define the terms critics chose to describe Sterne's text.
Perhaps Wolfgang Iser's phenomenological examination of reader response is useful in
considering this multitude of visualities; after all, Iser comments on the reactive aspect of
Tristram Shandy , calling it "something like an arena in which reader and author participate
in a game of the imagination." 54 Moving beyond this particular observation, Iser's
discussion finds expression, significantly, in visual terminology. For instance, Iser
with a literary text we can only picture things which are not there; the written part of
the text gives us the knowledge, but it is the unwritten part that gives us the
opportunity to picture things; indeed without the elements of indeterminacy, the gaps
in the text, we should not be able to use our imagination. (388)
While he is not specifically addressing Sterne's text in this instance, Iser pinpoints issues
which have been recurrent in this critical history. The variability of visual analogues to
Sterne's work seems to be dependent not only on the society from which a critic writes,
but also on the individual reader's process of filling the gaps that are characteristic of
Sterne's text. The reader visualizes the "three strokes" of Slop's figure as a being of flesh
and blood, and in doing so, Iser asserts, the character, "pictured" in the imagination,
becomes more alive than if he were described in close and precise detail.
The consistent and frequently complex discussion of the visual elements in Sterne's
work over the first two hundred years since their publication reinforces my observation,
suggested by my documentation of visuality in Sterne's texts in the previous chapter, that
this constitutes a unique element in his work. While other eighteenth-century prose
writers employ pictorial techniques, none seems to be cited as frequently or at such length
for this characteristic by their readers, clearly the result of Sterne's diverse and effective
use of visual techniques in his prose. This distinction may also be seen in the numerous
illustrated editions of Sterne's works, which may be seen as extensions of the visual texts
that they represent; while the many visual portrayals might suggest an artistic
responsiveness to Sterne's visuality, they also seem to be tied in with cultural factors, as
well, a subject I will explore at length in future chapters
"Your Criticks and Gentry of refined taste" : S5 Sterne and the Visual after 1964
Already the subject of varied approaches during the first two hundred years of critical
discussion, Sterne's visuality became the subject of increasingly diverse, yet focused,
investigations after 1964. The studies of the visual elements of Sterne's work in this
period emphasize visuality either as part of the content of his text or as a product of the
graphic effects of the printed text. In addition, discussions of visual portrayals of Sterne's
text — paintings, prints, and book illustrations — become a separate area of study,
occasionally appearing in combination with textual examinations. This expansion and
specialization of critical discussion not only reinforces the potential for analysis of the
visual elements inherent in Sterne's text (both verbal and graphic) and the illustrations of
those texts suggested in previous commentary on Sterne; it also provides a substantial
basis for the second half of my study, which explores the relationship between Sterne's
text, specific visual depictions of the text, and the cultural reception of his work.
The range and effectiveness of Sterne's visual rhetoric, noted by numerous critics cited
in the first part of this chapter as well as in Chapter 1, is vital to my study of illustrations
of Sterne's work, and develops into the subject of detailed and thoughtful commentary
after 1964. A particularly thoughtful examination by R. F. Brissenden briefly explores the
manifestation of language and concepts borrowed from the visual arts in A Sentimental
Journey and Tristram Shandy . Brissenden notes Sterne's personal experience with
painting and drawing, commenting that "his technique as a novelist benefited from his
experience as an amateur artist"; his analysis builds on textual evidence rather than spotty
biographical information, however, asserting that "the possibility of drawing formal
analogies between writing and painting . . . obviously interested Sterne." 56
Brissenden makes several observations of Sterne's visuality, observing the frequency
of his use of the technique: "a reading of Sterne's published works — including the
Sermons — would be enough to demonstrate that he was unusually well acquainted with
both the theory and the practice of painting" (93-94). Brissenden tersely catalogues the
specific vocabulary used by Sterne, noting that "he often uses the language of the artist,
speaking of strokes, tints, outlines, attitudes, lights, keeping, colouring and design with the
fluency and assurance of one who knows exactly what such terms mean." This approach,
he continues, "is most obvious, perhaps, in his treatment of character"; but then, almost
paradoxically, Brissenden states that Sterne "does not, in general, give detailed physical
descriptions of people, but when he speaks of 'drawing' a character he uses the phrase
with deliberate precision" (94). Brissenden's attempt to describe the elusive quality of
Sterne's description of character seems to agree with Sichel's and Priestley's observations
of Sterne's "impressionism": a not strictly realistic, yet highly evocative, means of
depicting physical appearance and personal characteristics, a verbal technique that one
might see most strongly paralleled in caricature-like illustrations of Sterne's work.
Although Brissenden singles out specific aspects of Sterne's text for their visual
effect — for instance, he observes that "the scenes in A Sentimental Journey have the fresh
and limpid quality of water-colour sketches: the details are few but beautifully placed, and
one remembers the clear ambiance in which each small tableau is bathed, and the soft,
bright touches of colour" (96) — he is less interested in cataloguing Sterne's rhetorical
technique than finding the contexts for its de facto existence. Brissenden closely identifies
Sterne's style with that of William Hogarth, noting the "remarkable similarity" (93)
between the two, especially in a shared emphasis on "intricacy and variety" (106). As
noted in Chapter 1, Brissenden identifies this as a shared interest in the rococo style, which
is characterized by shared traits of "lightness, elegance, surprise and wit" (107). 57 To
Brissenden, the agreement between the styles of both artist and writer represents a
standard for the successful illustration of texts that, he implies, is rarely achieved.
Aside from identifying a visual parallel to Sterne's style, Brissenden also ascribes
agency to Sterne's use of visual rhetoric, observing that "though obviously making some
attempt to achieve through the medium of language something analogous to what the
artist attains through the use of paint, [Sterne] is mainly interested in satirizing and
parodying some of the conventional aesthetic theories of the day" (95). To this end,
Brissenden focuses on Sterne's discussion, both conspicuous and subtle, of aesthetic
theorists in Tristram Shandy , and suggests that "the connoisseurs and theorists of painting
are among the first targets of Sterne's satire" (96). While Brissenden provides an
intriguing analysis of Sterne's visuality, his contention that it serves to illuminate "the
philosophical bases of his satire" (93) overlooks many instances of visuality, and
consequently neglects the many other ways that the technique functions in the text.
In his monograph Image and Immortality: A Study of "Tristram Shandy ." William V.
Holtz repeats Brissenden's pattern of selective citation of visual components in Sterne's
text and the consequent association of Sterne's visual rhetoric with specific thematic
functions. Initially echoing Watt's generic concern, Holtz sees the visual elements of
Sterne as an important part of "the demand for realism that is the novel's defining
characteristic" as well as a means of asserting "the traditional acknowledgment of the
primacy of visual experience and of the exemplary status of the painter's art in imitating
reality." More tenuously, Holtz also sets out to probe Sterne's personal interest in the
visual, "the character and temperament of the author himself, that complex of attitudes,
gifts, and biases"; this establishment of a biographical foundation, however, is by Holtz' s
early admission "elusive," 58 and, primarily restricted to a recitation of references from
Sterne's letters cited elsewhere and Cross's biography, proves to be a critical dead end.
Although Holtz notes that "to a vital and complex tradition of literary pictorialism and
a newly fledged genre of fiction, he [Sterne] brought an acute visual imagination" (152-
53), specific discussion of Sterne's use of visual language is limited to a brief overview
(93-97), supplemented by occasional references, some of which usefully isolate unique
aspects of Sterne's literary pictorialism. Expanding on his reading of the dynamic between
Sterne and Hogarth in the scene of Trim reading the sermon, Holtz notes that a similar use
of visual signs, the "dramatization of verbal problems" (70), are represented by Trim's act
of dropping the hat or Toby's understanding his brother's emotional state by his pose as
he lies prone after hearing of Tristram's accident. These passages, Holtz asserts, in
contrasting the powers of verbal and visual depiction, cast Sterne as a passionate
participant in the ongoing debate that is frequently (if incorrectly) identified with the
phrase ut pictura poesis . 59 Holtz investigates Sterne's role in the debate, noting that
"Lessing's interest was in the expressive functions of language, Locke's in the referential;
Sterne, in a quizzical probing of the relationship between word and thing, examines both"
(68). As Holtz usefully points out, the passages in Tristram Shandy that emphasize the
communicative powers of gesture and appearance also explore this ambiguity: "To the
extent that Locke found language inadequate for communication, Lessing found it
inadequate for art; and Sterne discovered, in the dark gap between sign and meaning, rich
possibilities for dramatic complications at once comic and deeply significant" (68).
Sterne's "dark gap," however, has become infamous as a location for the projection of
profound critical hypotheses, while consistently eluding critical attempts at definition;
clearly, too, illustrators were able to derive meaning from this "dark gap," albeit in
remarkably different ways.
Holtz also reflects on Sterne's painterly technique of examining his characters as they
are "frozen" in mid-action. "The implications and effects of this device are complex," he
states, "the carefully posed, static figures of Mr. and Mrs. Shandy can certainly be called
verbal pictures; the details of expressive signs, we have seen, interested Sterne greatly, and
the minute fidelity with which he recorded them resulted in many similar pictures which
halt the narrative progress" (1 10). Rather than subject these "pictures" to individual
analysis, however, Holtz sees them as means to an end, primarily as a way deliberately to
disrupt the narrative. He notes that the "pictorial metaphor" in Tristram's analysis of
storytelling, when he compares narration to "a man planting cabbages" [TS VIII. 1.655.1-
15], "carries a double burden. The elaborate rendering of posture, gesture, and expression
seems obviously aimed at producing detailed visual effects; but the metaphor remains valid
in a broader sense as well for the polar opposite of narrative movement: the suspended
actions, the minute attention to detail, the nontemporal ordering of materials" (97). Holtz
stresses the painterly or pictorial aspect of Sterne's work primarily in regard to the
descriptive technique in vignettes, and then only briefly; it can be argued that in doing so,
he overlooks a considerable body of additional visual rhetoric that might have augmented
his argument concerning the fundamental role of the visual in Sterne's understanding of his
Holtz asserts that Tristram Shandy is unique in its "extreme reduction of dramatic
action to tableaux"; these "static, posed vignettes" (107) create a sense that "the reader
tends to experience Tristram Shandy as a series of tableaux, spatially organized within
themselves but also demanding a final unified, nontemporal apprehension which would
approximate Tristram's simultaneous awareness of different aspects of the story he wants
to tell" (109). Holtz' s emphasis on the tableaux is less a result of his interest in their
pictorialism, however, than a result of his analysis of a type of narrative technique that
serves to halt the flow of storytelling. He maintains that this type of "realism" more
strongly represents the human experience of reality, as opposed to Watt's "reality" of a
linear narrative; Holtz' s concept seems particularly suited to actual visual illustration, with
its emphasis on position and appearance to convey meaning. 60
Overall, reflection on Sterne's perspective toward time becomes central to Holtz's
consideration of the visual elements in Tristram Shandy . Sterne's means of controlling
time in his fiction through frozen, pictorialized action, Holtz contends, reflects a
strategy — manifested in Sterne's interest in his own portraits — to cope with his own frail
mortality; 61 Holtz notes that the "pictorial was for Sterne closely connected with his sense
of identity and his awareness of approaching death" (151). Ironically, the "immortality"
that Sterne covets and seeks through this technique (and through his act of writing) is
indeed attained by the continuing interest in his work, as well as through the many visual
renditions that have been inspired by his verbal pictorialism.
Martin C. Battestin suggests in his 1974 essay that all of the functions of the visual in
Sterne's text reflect different types of denial. He observes that during the scene of Trim in
the kitchen after Bobby's death, "Sterne freezes time, holding an act or gesture indefinitely
suspended while allowing the mind to run free. We have the illusion that the threat of
Time has been neutralized." 62 Battestin sees the visual conventions that pervade Sterne's
text as a result of a mistrust of words (noting Tristram's declaration, "I hate set
dissertations" [TS III.Preface.235. 9]), or the result of a Lockean recognition of their
inadequacy (similar to Holtz's point) when "Sterne eschews words altogether" (266).
Last, he notes the importance of "body language" — the "gestures or postures of the body
. . . which express the sentiments of the heart more vividly than speech can do" (268).
Although both Holtz and Battestin suggest coherent functions of Sterne's visuality, they
fail tend to reduce Sterne's use of visual technique to their own biographical or critical
concern; indeed, the more one examines the recent studies of Sterne's pictorialism, the
more likely it seems that the least thesis-ridden commentary on the subject will be found in
the actual visual renditions of his work.
In the first part of his extensive biography, Arthur H. Cash approaches Sterne's visual
tendencies from another perspective, reinforcing the emphasis placed by Sterne's previous
biographer, Wilbur L. Cross, on his personal experience with the visual arts as a possible
basis for his pictorial writing. Conceding that Sterne "may not have been an accomplished
painter," Cash observes that "he was sensitive to spatial and chromatic arrangements and
had a highly developed visual imagination. His habit of apprehending experience in visual
terms was deeply ingrained." 63 Prudently avoiding the difficult-to-prove assertion that
Sterne's tendency toward the pictorial had a basis in his actual experience as a visual artist,
Cash proceeds to identify specific elements of his visuality: his sense of space (discussion
of which will develop into a separate thread of critical discourse, as we shall see), his sense
of color, and his ability to create a picture in the reader's imagination.
Cash's analysis also recognizes Sterne's complex process of perception and integration
in creating the pictorial aspects of his work: "Sterne often interposed his visual
apprehension before the verbal, translating his primarily imagined situations and characters
into secondarily imagined paintings, precisely drafted and detailed, or into imagined
sketches, often comic, always charged with symbolic meaning. These, in turn, he
communicated by means of words" (212-13). By stressing the evident bias toward the
visual in Sterne's creative imagination, Cash suggests a credible and concise psychological
process by which Sterne makes words into images and, then, images into words which, in
turn, generate new images in the reader's mind. This process might be tentatively
extended to encompass the generation of images in the mind of the illustrator that are
eventually rendered on paper.
Henri Fluchere makes several salient observations about Sterne's visuality, particularly
in regard to its use in depiction of character; like Cash, his observations tend to be wide-
ranging and inclusive, perhaps because he does not limit himself — like Brissenden and
Holtz — by attempting to prove that the technique serves a single function. Commenting
on the long history of sometimes harsh criticism of Sterne's work, Fluchere insists that "no
one ever seriously contested the claim that Sterne is a great painter of characters, a painter
of genius." 64 Fluchere particularly emphasizes Sterne's ability to animate his cast of
characters, who "come alive . . . appearing like real people in the eyes of the imagination,
friendly, persuasive, men and women we should like to be on familiar terms with,
forgetting that they are not creatures of flesh and blood but pure creations of the mind"
(272). Like Priestley, Fluchere isolates Sterne's portrayal of Uncle Toby as being
particularly effective, so much so that the reader's sense of his vibrant character lives
beyond the pages of the book: "The character grows in a way detached from its context:
uncle Toby leaves behind the book and his history to become the friend and companion of
the critic who has thus objectivized him, walking at his side, marvellously near and
touching, and ready to conform to the picture the critic has created for himself (273).
Fluchere cites several instances of detailed pictorial description in Sterne, although the
parallels he finds with the visual arts are best expressed (perhaps not surprisingly) in his
discussion of the scene of Trim reading the sermon: he observes that "Sterne adjusts
Trim's legs, knees and feet to the required angles as if he were arranging a silhouette on
canvas .... Trim's attitude is observed and reproduced with all this careful precision
because it perfectly expresses that inner emotion of the orator" (278).
Sterne's ability to bring his characters to life, Fluchere suggests, is a result of his ability
to convey character through appearance; an important aspect of this is the visual
description of gestures, which "write a character's story, for not only do they foreshadow,
accompany and underline his emotion or thought, but they may also modify the exterior
world" (280). The intense attention that Sterne gives to detailing gestures does indeed
magnify their significance, although Fluchere (or his translator) becomes cryptic in regard
to the effect of gesture on the "exterior world"; perhaps he is suggesting that the emphasis
placed on minutiae displaces the predictable components of reality. Ultimately, Fluchere
attributes the effectiveness of Sterne's technique to his recognition of the preeminence of
the visual; he states that "the eye observes, records, understands, expresses and speaks, all
at once. It is alive to the plastic value of a description, to the composition of a picture,
and to the significance of a single gesture or movement" (277). Both Fluchere and Cash
recognize the importance of Sterne's use of the visual in his characterizations, a
conclusion they seem to reach haphazardly, without trying to prove a specific thesis. In
doing so, they pinpoint a factor in the successful illustration of Sterne's texts, as well: the
vividness of the portrayal, both comic and sentimental, in text and in pictures, to a large
degree determines the effectiveness of the characterization.
Sterne's visuality manifests itself through nonverbal means, as well. The idea that
Sterne's text conveys meaning through its very appearance on the page, not only through
the various overt devices and "tricks," but in more subtle ways, ranging from the use of
dashes, or the spacing on the pages, is argued by Christopher Fanning, who asserts that
there is a connection between the physical spaces we are asked to visualize as part of the
Shandys' world and the book as a visual object in our hands; he suggests that both
contribute to certain unifying themes in the text. For example, he observes that the
"spatial separation of the men conversing in the parlour from Mrs Shandy and the midwife
who are labouring over Tristram's birth in the bedroom above correlates with the separate
spheres of male and female activity that are themselves figures for satiric distinctions
between theory and practice" (430); 65 he finds this separation echoed in Sterne's use of
line spacing and typography in the "beds of justice" passage (TS VI. 18.526-29), where the
excessive white space on each page conveys the idea of the distance between Walter and
Elizabeth. In this way, one might suggest that Sterne's printed text already contains
within itself not merely the seeds of the visual tradition I will be examining, but its first
examples. While one can press such an idea too far (and Fanning sometimes is clever
rather than precise), this approach suggests a subtle dimension of visuality that
subconsciously creates a sense of shared textual and spatial structure.
Examining Sterne's text from another perspective, Elizabeth Wanning Harries isolates
the popular eighteenth-century motif of the fragment as a recurrent and significant form in
Sterne's text. Drawing together visual and textual examples of the fragment from
historical sources, Harries notes that "planned fragments could be a way to acknowledge
the partial, biased nature of our experience, and at the same time suggest a wider context
for that experience, a matrix that could hold it together." 66 Harries draws together
different representations of the fragment in Sterne's work, from his conspicuously broken
textual structures to what might be seen as a general theme of non-completion and
disconnection, adding that Sterne "emphasizes the desultory, disjointed character of his
novels by including sections he labels as fragments" (41).
Citing visual examples of the fragment prevalent in the late-eighteenth century, Harries
compares Sterne's theme of textual fragmentation to the fashionable "artificial ruins that
were constructed in many eighteenth-century gardens" that "emphasize the interplay of
chance and design" (43). Harries observes that Sterne's fragmented text, "like the
crumbling walls of the ruins, call our attention to their deliberate incompleteness" (43) and
associates this structural tendency with "the central meaning of the non finito , the way that
an aesthetic of the unfinished leads to an aesthetic (and, ultimately, an ethic) of
participation" (45). This sense of "participation" seems aligned with Sterne's overt
addresses to his readers which include invitations to engage with his work, such as the
inclusion of the blank page. In addition, Harries states, the fragmentary "suggests the
pathos of the unfinished," and, like other graphic representations in and of the text, implies
"the inadequacy of words" (47) — a recurrent idea in the studies of Sterne's visuality. 67 It
may be agreed that Sterne's sense of the book as physical object is stronger than in other
contemporary authors, and hence the illustrative tradition that accompanies his text is, in
part at least, a response to Sterne's view that how a book appears to the reader is already
at least a partial illumination of its meaning.
Often the subject of passing remarks in previous criticism, the role of Sterne's
innovative pictorial and typographic effects in Tristram Shandy become the subjects of
closer investigation in the late-twentieth century. Recalling that Sterne called the marbled
page the "motly emblem of my work" (TS III.36.268.7), Peter de Voogd asserts that it
acts "as an analogue, not a direct correspondence to Sterne's art." 68 De Voogd is
particularly interested in a contemporaneous aesthetic theory that endorses "the 'use of
accidents' as opposed to trusting to 'a regular plan'" (280). Most intriguing — though
least provable — de Voogd proposes to evaluate Tristram Shandy as a visual work, as if "it
were a single painting, a portrait of Tristram's mind" (280).
De Voogd suggests that Tristram Shandy is representative of an "important shift in
emphasis, from lively order to organized irregularity" in eighteenth-century art, citing
"Reynolds's advocating the 'use of accidents,'" "Hogarth's emphasis on variety and
intricacy," and "Longinus's praise of seeming disorder" (281) as other examples. More
specifically, de Voogd draws a detailed parallel between Sterne's work and the theories of
the artist Alexander Cozens, who was interested in a sense of "liveliness and spontaneity"
in his work. To achieve this, Cozens employed the technique of "the Blot" (282), which,
although maintaining the appearance of randomness, "is a means to a deliberate end. It
facilitates invention, [and] gives spontaneity and freedom of expression to the finished
composition" (283). De Voogd suggests that Sterne's writing process resembled
Cozens's act of composition: "One can imagine Sterne jotting down as they came his ideas
and thought-associations in first drafts, doing with words what Cozens advised his
students to do with the brush" (283). Returning to the blot-like composition of the
marbled page, de Voogd compares it to Tristram Shandy : Sterne's book is "like the
marbled page . . . seemingly haphazard, the child of contingency, accidental, utterly
dependent on the whims of chance and circumstance" (285). 69
In Image and Immortality . Holtz focuses on Sterne's typographical and
"supratypographical" (81) additions to his text as devices within the "pictorialist tradition"
of literature. According to Holtz, this "tradition" extends beyond textual content such as
"writing" a picture, and finds a parallel in the "expressive" nature of emblem poems.
Reviewing these graphic elements in a later study, Holtz suggests that the non-verbal
elements convey a distrust of the adequacy of language. 70 In a sense, all of these
conclusions can be true; these elements in Sterne's text, like the words themselves, seem
to convey a multitude of meanings.
In a later study (in many ways a continuation of the first), de Voogd examines
Tristram Shandy as a "'co-existential' verbo-visual whole" by analyzing "the function and
effects of the non-verbal aspects of the text of the first editions of Tristram Shandy in the
light of the aesthetic effect of the printing and lay-out of its 1,594 duodecimo pages." 71
By looking at this edition, de Voogd suggests, we return to the closest incarnation of
Sterne's intent in creating a hybrid verbal-visual text. The concept of "co-existentiality,"
according to de Voogd, is "when the text's verbal and visual elements are so intimately
interwoven that they form an aesthetic whole" (384). Aside from noting the more
obvious — and frequently commented upon — graphic effects like the marbled, black, and
blank page, typographical oddities, and juxtaposed Latin/English text, de Voogd addresses
the design of the typeface in the first edition of Tristram Shandy , the "highly irregular
letter" and the "nervous look" of the original Caslon Pica (386) as part of the "whole."
Ultimately (and not very usefully), de Voogd admits that the meaning of these visual
elements might be as elusive as that of the text itself, suggesting that "to read the original
text of Sterne's book one must to a very great extent submit to a lexical and visual
guessing game" (387). The critical observations of Holtz, Fanning, Harries, de Voogd,
and others on the physical structure of the text and its graphic apparatus emphasize a
different aspect of Sterne's visuality than its verbal pictorialism; the visuality generated by
these textual and graphic structures creates another dimension to Sterne's descriptive
visuality, reinforcing the role of the visual function in Sterne's texts. This structural and
graphic aspect of visuality offers strong possibilities for further exploration, but can only
be applied tangentially to my current study, possibly as a way the text becomes manifest in
Strong indications of the visuality inherent in Sterne's work are the numerous
paintings, prints, and book illustrations which it has inspired. Critical examinations of
visual representations of characters and scenes from Tristram Shandy and A Sentimental
Journey have been the subject of over fifteen studies in the last thirty years and have
adopted two basic approaches: either documentation of the catalogue of an artist or a time
period, along with the historical and biographical contexts of these visual representations;
or, the study of the relationship between the visual representation, Sterne's text, and
cultural interests and attitudes contemporary with the portrayal (and that might include a
documentary catalogue as the foundation for such analysis). The various efforts to
document different pictorial groupings and time periods of Sterne illustration will be
discussed briefly here, and utilized later in this study as needed; the critical discussions,
however, will be more important to this study, both as the bases of further investigation
and as models of pictorial/textual/cultural analysis.
T. C. D. Eaves, in his extensive unpublished doctoral dissertation on the early
illustration of eighteenth-century English fiction, notes that "of all English literature, the
two novels of Laurence Sterne had perhaps the greatest appeal with artists from 1760 to
1810, and the study of their illustration is of more than passing interest" 72 — a significant
observation, since his study documents the visual renderings of the work of Richardson,
Fielding, Goldsmith, and Smollett, as well. In the chapter on Sterne, Eaves catalogues the
paintings, prints, and book illustrations of his work in the late-eighteenth and early-
nineteenth centuries, and analyzes thematic trends in the depictions. Eaves believes that
the humorous aspects of Sterne's texts have been repeatedly masked by aesthetic and
cultural influences that cast both his works as primarily sentimental; he laments of A
Sentimental Journey that "painters, printsellers, and publishers . . . had minimized to
virtual non-existence its Rabelaisian humor" (249) by the 1790s. Likewise, Eaves
suggests that, in light of this trend, the humor of Tristram Shandy "could not be
obliterated, but it could be and was minimized, even altered through the choice of milder
subjects and the use of delicate techniques of composition and expression" (250).
Although this conclusion about the early history of Sterne illustration (similar to the one
later reached by Catherine Gordon) is the central element of his study, his briefer
observations will be useful to my focused examinations of the period, such as my
discussion of the image of Maria in Chapter 5.
Eaves points out that "an obvious gain" of the study of illustrations "is that it leads to
a clearer understanding of how . . . eighteenth-century readers interpreted his novels"
(258), a hypothesis I build on in my own examination of sentimental illustration in Chapter
4. Although Eaves' s work occasionally suffers from flawed assumptions and an evidently
strong critical bias against any sentimental interpretation of Sterne's works, he offers
foundational data for the further study of Sterne illustration as well as a valuable model for
Along with his general study of the visual representations of eighteenth-century fiction,
Eaves' s short essay on George Romney's four paintings of scenes from Tristram Shandy
predates other similar studies by forty years; I include it in this section because of its
thematic relation to more recent studies. Here Eaves' s primary concern is dispelling
scholarly rumors about the relationship between the young painter and Sterne, and
controversy over the dating of Romney's compositions. He does, however, provide a
catalogue of the four paintings — evidentially the earliest pictorial representations (1762) of
Tristram Shandy after Hogarth's illustrations. Only one of these paintings survives in any
form: "The Entrance of Dr. Slop into the Parlour of Mr. Shandy" exists only as an
engraving, while "The Death of Le Fever," "Obadiah Making his Bow to Dr. Slop as the
Doctor is Falling in the Dirty Lane," and "A Garden Scene, with Uncle Toby and Trim
Building their Fortifications" have disappeared entirely. 73 Eaves's brief study, in
attempting to clarify previous assumptions about the friendship between Romney and
Sterne and the dating of the paintings, stops enticingly short of conclusions that might be
drawn about the confluence of ideas between the country parson and the soon-to-be
famous artist perhaps present in these paintings — leaving such interpretations, one hopes,
to future studies.
Although overshadowed in range and depth by Eaves's work, Catherine Gordon's
studies, which focus primarily on paintings, utilize a similar dual approach, cataloguing
artwork while secondarily introducing contemporaneous critical perspectives; like Eaves,
Gordon suggests that visual representations can act consistently as interpreters of texts,
specifically focusing on how Sterne's "works were seen and interpreted visually and how
shifting public opinion, developments in society and changes in artists' traditions affected
the treatment of subjects from Sterne's novels." 74 In addition, the catalogue assembled by
Gordon independent of her commentary lists 147 paintings derived from Sterne's works
between 1761 and 1869, in addition to five prints, a valuable reference tool for future
Gordon analyzes the visual details of many of the paintings in this period based on
Sterne's work, adding to her historical compiling of painters' biographies and excerpts
from contemporary reviews of Sterne's work sensitive and deft "readings" of paintings as
a means of discerning critical attitudes toward Sterne's work. For example, Gordon notes
that Joseph Wright's painting, Sterne's Captive , "displays the influence of his [Wright's]
Roman study in the derivation of the figure from Michelangelo's Sistine Adam while
reproducing the detail of Sterne's description and reflecting his mood of suffering
melancholia" ("MTOH" 52). This melancholia, Gordon observes (echoing Eaves), was
part of the predominantly sentimental perspective readers maintained toward Sterne's
Further reinforcing the parallel between reception and depiction is Gordon's assertion
that the 1782 edition of the Beauties of Sterne (which states on its title page that its
excerpts were "Selected for the Heart of Sensibility") "contains every subject from Sterne
used by artists during this period" ("MTOH" 54). Gordon goes on to draw a broader
conclusion, reinforcing Eaves's perspective, about the depiction of subjects from Sterne's
works at this time, suggesting that they "ensured that Sterne's reputation after his death
was not as a comic, satiric or bawdy writer but as a feeling heart. As Sterne's own face
and figure, derived from the Reynolds portrait of 1760, became the source for many
painted Yoricks and Tristrams, so the misfortunes of his characters were transferred and
caused the compassionate to sigh for Sterne himself ("MTOH" 52). 75 However,
although visual portrayals of the sentimental aspects of Sterne's works were prevalent at
the end of the eighteenth century, a humorous perspective toward his work (which, as
Gordon has previously mentioned, appears primarily in prints, but exists also in some
illustrated editions) as well as toward the author himself (at least three separate editions of
jest books depict Sterne as a comic character), seems to have been occasionally exercised
Gordon also focuses on the growth in popularity of paintings that touch upon the
erotic elements in Sterne's work. For instance, at least eleven paintings were produced
from 1830 to 1860 of Yorick and the Grisette . some of which "follow the traditional
identification of Yorick and Tristram with Sterne himself and so both base their figure on
Reynolds' portrait" ( BPS 85), perhaps the result of widespread beliefs about the author's
personal life. Gordon observes the presence of a comic theme in combination with erotic
elements in Leslie's Uncle Toby and the Widow Wadman . which, along with G. S.
Newton's Yorick and the Grisette . are seen as "scenes of amusing flirtation displaying the
comedy of feminine guile and male discomfiture" ( BPS 85). These paintings, Gordon
continues, "established a new pattern for later Sterne illustration. During the rest of the
nineteenth century a majority of Sterne subjects, whether drawn from A Sentimental
Journey or from the now more popular Tristram Shandy , usually depicted two figures in
an amusing or ridiculous situation" ( BPS 87). Closer analysis of this trend — the range of
subject matter in Gordon's study sometimes leaves certain questions unanswered — could
reveal not only a better idea of the Victorian perception of Sterne, but also some
suggestions that could help answer the riddle of sexuality in nineteenth-century England.
Several flaws detract from Gordon's two studies. First, Gordon draws her
conclusions almost exclusively from the style and content of paintings, which, she
explains, had been dictated, to a certain degree, by convention, thus making them less
persuasive mirrors of cultural attitude. Second, Gordon's exclusion of, by and large,
prints and book illustrations makes it difficult to accept her findings as truly representative
of current cultural perspectives toward Sterne's work. An examination of the portrayals
in many of these prints and illustrated editions will conflict with some of Gordon's
conclusions — for instance, as mentioned earlier, the apparent popularity of jest books that
use Sterne as a comic figure while paintings with sentimental themes were in vogue. Last,
Gordon tends to polarize the attitudes expressed in the paintings of Sterne's work as
clearly either sentimental or comic (a distinction Sterne himself might have discouraged);
although she provides a valuable catalogue which supplements the work of Eaves, her
polarized perspective serves as a reminder that illustrations, like verbal texts, rarely
correspond to neat categories.
In a much briefer analysis of artwork of the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
derived from Sterne's texts, Richard D. Altick notes that by the 1800s, "although his
[Sterne's] literary stock remained fairly high in the wake of the Romantic critics'
enthusiasm for him, the spreading nervousness about his 'indecency' combined with
revelations of his untidy private life to reduce his readership. Thus his acceptability in art
theoretically was contingent on at least two opposing forces." 76 Altick presents several
such intriguing cultural-aesthetic junctures in his chapter on Sterne, noting, for instance, a
distinct change in subject matter in Sterne paintings as a result of nineteenth-century
critical reception: "Victorian moralists and critics agreed in deploring the Rabelaisian and
satirical strains in Tristram Shandy , and consequently the twenty or so paintings that are
recorded between 1830 and 1885 concentrated exclusively on its pathetic and amiably
humorous episodes" (403-4). Altick's generalization clearly conflicts with Gordon's
suggestion that several paintings in the period "touch upon the erotic"; while further
investigation might settle this disagreement, the split of opinion — which are likely
reflections on the same visualizations — suggests to the future scholar the intrinsic
subjectivity of visual interpretation.
W. G. Day's examination of an important Sternean icon, Charles Robert Leslie's
painting of My Uncle Toby and the Widow Wadman . is a good example of the archival
work that remains to be done in the area. Day summarizes the artist's biography, stressing
his particular interest in Tristram Shandy (his biographer observes that it was "one of
Leslie's favourite books, and has furnished the subject of one his best pictures" 77 ), before
carefully documenting a history of the famous image. The core of Day's discussion
centers on his observations of its intriguing resonance throughout the nineteenth century,
comparing its "hold on the public imagination" (83) to the popularity of Maria's depiction
in the late-eighteenth century. (Additional renditions of Leslie's image have been
discovered since Day's study, adding weight to this suggestion. 78 ) Day does not extend
his discussion to hypothesize about the cultural implications of this image, as was
attempted by Eaves, Gordon, and Altick, although he certainly provides sufficient
materials for a more thematic inquiry into the Leslie portrait and its relationship to
Sterne's text. 79
By their very nature, prints derived from Sterne's work were less aesthetically refined
than paintings (though sometimes derived from them), but were seen by much larger
audiences, who could either possess their own copies or borrow them from a subscription
library. The print culture played a significant role in late-eighteenth-century life, and the
boom in the print industry spurred by a combination of technological advancement and the
increased availability of disposable income coincides with a period of strong interest in
Sterne's work, both in its original forms and in popular collections such as Beauties of
Sterne . De Voogd notes that this artwork was available in booklet form in this period:
"printsellers brought out series of prints on particular subjects in numbered sets stitched
together and intended for binding in an album by the prospective buyer." 80 Several
different series of prints portraying scenes from Tristram Shandy and A Sentimental
Journey were published, each series ranging in number from four to twelve images each; in
addition, many more individual prints (some adopted from paintings, as Gordon observes)
were popular, as well.
David Alexander catalogues sixteen print renditions of Sterne's work during the late-
eighteenth century, tracing their derivation, when applicable, from paintings. He observes
that, in this period, "many prints began to appear based on pictures that were not exhibited
and which had in fact been painted primarily to be engraved"; 81 in fact, Angelica
Kauffmann, famous for her rendition of Maria, "sold several pictures directly to
printsellers" (1 18) as opposed to displaying them first in formal venues such as the Royal
Academy. Alexander adds that at the end of the 1780s, print publishers "briefly became
the dominant patrons of painters" (119), thus suggesting a strong connection between
artistic production and public demand, and linking prints directly to the public perception
of Sterne's work. Alexander also discusses the various types of engravings that depict
Sternean subjects, differentiating between "inexpensive mezzotints" (117) and "elegant
stipples [which] were by no means cheap and were aimed at the fashionable end of the
market" (119). By clarifying some relatively obscure aspects of the eighteenth-century
print industry, Alexander provides an idea of the economic, and perhaps social, range of
appeal of the visual portrayals of Sterne's work, which forms a useful parallel to my
discussion of book illustrations during the same period.
In his 1991 examination of Henry William Bunbury's four print renderings of Tristram
Shandy (1772-73), de Voogd suggests the wide popularity of the series, pointing out that
the publishers "went for large numbers, [that] the lithographed versions could be easily
reproduced, and sets, coloured and uncoloured, still turn up fairly regularly." 82 These
prints, de Voogd asserts, portray Tristram Shandy as "first and foremost a comic novel.
Both in his choice of subjects and in the caricaturesque execution of his designs he goes
for farce rather than humour" (143). De Voogd's recognition of the "caricaturesque"
aspect of the depiction of Toby evokes the frequent critical discussion — by Stephen and
Priestley, among others — of the character in visual terms, as well as the apparent
popularity of the reproductions of Leslie's painting. The comic portrayal of Sternean
subjects, which experiences a lull during the primarily sentimentally minded period
between 1780-1820, will eventually form a significant part of the tradition of Sterne
illustration that, like the focus on the sentimental, seems to fluctuate with changes in
popular and critical tastes.
De Voogd provides similar documentation and commentary in his examination of
Robert Dighton's 1784 prints of Tristram Shandy , offering background information on the
artist as well as the "full particulars" of the series of twelve "washed over pen drawings"
by the same artist. De Voogd emphasizes the significance of the subtitle of the series
("representing the most interesting, sentimental, and humorous Scenes, in TRISTRAM
SHANDY" ), noting that Dighton, like Bunbury, "designed his prints for the print
trade and not for a book publisher; in other words, he was free to choose his own format"
(89). This suggestion implies that Dighton may have depicted scenes that either enjoyed
great popularity or that particularly interested him as moments that invited visualization.
Here de Voogd carefully accounts for the subjects of these prints within the larger
scope of previous Sterne artwork, cataloguing previous book illustrations of Tristram
Shandy (two by Hogarth, 1760; probably four by Rooker, 1780; eight by Stothard, 1781;
five by Dodd, 1781) as well as prints (four by Bunbury, 1773), and suggesting possible
lines of influence between them. Within this larger scheme, de Voogd uses Dighton's
work to dispute Gordon's statement that Bunbury's was one of the few humorous
renditions of Tristram Shandy , and emphasizes Dighton's critical role in the history of
Sterne illustration, asserting that he was "the first full-scale illustrator of Tristram Shandv .
and in his choice of the 'most interesting, sentimental, and humorous Scenes' he presented
the buyer of his album with the whole range of moods and styles which his source could
give rise to." De Voogd valuably strengthens the discourse on book illustration by
suggesting the specific criterion of "inclusiveness," and goes on to praise "the open-
mindedness with which Dighton approached the novel . . . which enabled him to illustrate
both its serious and its comic aspects" (97-98; my italics). In his assertion of two differing
interpretations embodied in Dighton's work, de Voogd serves to caution those who might
be tempted to make critical generalizations about the interpretive function of illustrations;
just as the shifting tone of Sterne's multi-faceted work seems to defy simple
categorization, the illustrations of these texts, which can mirror their verbal ambiguity,
frequently elude straightforward analysis, as well.
While prints of Sterne's work enjoyed broad popularity in the late-eighteenth and
early-nineteenth centuries, book illustrations of scenes from Tristram Shandy and A
Sentimental Journey were also frequently seen in this period; book illustrations, of course,
would persist long afterwards, as print series became replaced by stereoscopes, and
eventually, televisions and computer screens. 84 The long history of book illustration of
Sterne's texts has inspired a range of critical commentary in the late-twentieth century, a
response which only begins to explore the potential of the topic. Many of these studies
include brief remarks about the visuality of Sterne's text in general and its relationship to
Hogarth's depictions in particular; they are most valuable for the purposes of my study,
however, as investigations of individual artists and periods which form part of a larger
tradition of book illustration of Sterne's work.
W. G. Day briefly investigates Michael Angelo Rooker's illustrations to Tristram
Shandy for the ten- volume 1780 edition of Sterne's Works (likely the first illustrated
edition); Day asserts that Rooker (who was a successful painter) "had an interest in Sterne
which was independent of financial considerations." 85 Day catalogues the engravings of
Rooker's illustrations for Tristram Shandy ("Trim bringing in the jack boots," "Susannah
setting fire to Slop's wig," "Tristram and the ass being driven through the gateway of
Lyons," and "Toby and Trim at the sentry box"), and compares Rooker's depiction of the
fall of Dr. Slop to the rendition drawn by Bunbury several years earlier. 86 David
McKitterick, in his similar study of a group of drawings by John Nixon, which had been
exhibited at the Royal Academy (and which were apparently the basis of his illustrations in
the 1787 edition of The Beauties of Sterne ). 87 observes that Nixon's pictures "represent in
their mood and in their form a confluence" (86) of the traditions of book illustration, print
making, and painting, but while providing a useful catalogue of Nixon's drawings of
scenes from Sterne, 88 he also suggests that Nixon's artwork "shows disappointingly little
originality in their composition" (95).
T. C. D. Eaves, in his previously mentioned dissertation, provides perhaps the most
comprehensive catalogue to date of the first five decades of book illustrations of Sterne's
work, as well as substantial thematic analysis of several series of illustrations. Eaves is
particularly interested in what he sees as the shift in artistic emphasis from the comic to the
sentimental, a change in taste he attributes in large part to Joshua Reynolds, who inspired
"painters and illustrators (many of whom were students of the Royal Academy) to keep
their 'principal attention fixed upon the higher excellencies.'" 89 Eaves views this lesson of
Reynolds as significant in the decision of many artists to depict "the more tragic and
moving passages of literature" (230), thus suppressing "the native English flair for humor
and burlesque" (232) in book illustration. Eaves suggests that this trend worked against
Sterne's work, claiming that "no artist could, with any degree of accuracy to the text,
totally ignore the paintable humorous passages and devote himself entirely to sentiment"
(228). He acknowledges (somewhat begrudgingly) what he sees as the prevalence of this
illustrative approach, adding that this visual association of the text with sentimentality
"undoubtedly influenced not only later illustrators, but also readers of all periods" (259).
Eaves makes several solid observations, but much more data could be compiled —
contemporary critical voices in particular — before making such temptingly broad
conclusions about the influence of book illustration on the text's reception.
Eaves makes two points that are essential to both his study and my own. First, as
mentioned earlier, he affirms that Sterne's works were more frequently illustrated than
those of contemporary fiction writers, suggesting that a particular quality in Sterne's
text — perhaps his visuality — invited pictorial depiction. Second, Eaves is interested in
gauging the influence of other factors on the portrayal of Sterne's work, noting that
"English art— graphic and literary— changed from 'neo-classic' to 'romantic,' and the
growth and eventual dominance of the 'romantic' in taste is brought out clearly in the
pictorial representations of Sterne's two novels" (259); Eaves might make some awkward
assertions, such as neglecting to explore his terms fully, but his idea of using artwork as a
cultural thermometer is one I hope to continue here.
In two brief studies, Serge Soupel examines the illustrations that accompany four
nineteenth-century editions of A Sentimental Journey . In the first, he traces the lines of
influence between the work of Bertall and A. Lavieille (1849), Edmond Hedouin (1875),
and Maurice Leloir (1884), comparing their renditions of "The Monk," "The Husband,"
"The Temptation," "The Patisser," and "The Case of Delicacy." Aside from filling in
another gap in the long and varied catalogue of Sterne illustration (and at least a dozen
illustrated translations of Sterne's work have been published), Soupel suggests a
consistent focus on scenes of "high sentimental ambiguity" which hint at "lascivious
expectation" (203 ), 90 and, possibly, a parallel between the illustrations and French erotic
prints from earlier in the century. Soupel continues this investigation with a later note on
the works of Marold, finding in them "a sharp contrast with earlier etchings found in
previous French editions (121); 91 Marold may have avoided depicting sentimental scenes
such as "The Monk," Soupel suggests, because they were "overexploited" by previous
artists. Soupel provides brief, though useful, commentary suggesting an interpretative
trend in French illustrations of A Sentimental Journey that acknowledges, and later
retreats from, the erotic element in Sterne's text. 92
In his study of the book illustration of A Sentimental Journey during the 1920s, Paul
Goring notes that the period is of "particular interest due to the quantity of illustrated
editions and a consistency in the interpretation of the text chosen by illustrators." Goring
observes that the history of the book's illustration "shows that visual interpretation of the
text has been as varied as its critical reception. Like much of its criticism, its illustration
has tended either to promote a reading of true sentimentality or give emphasis to Yorick's
carnality." 93 Goring discusses specific illustrators from this period (Vera Willoughby,
Norah McGuinness, J. E. Laboureur, Valenti Angelo, Polia Chentoff and Bernard Roy) in
this context, and concludes that they "present a reading which stresses the carnal" (64).
Although the sentimental/erotic split (which in itself is an oversimplification that devalues
Sterne's playful ambiguity) may have been prevalent in the 1920s, it hardly provides a
foundation for an inclusive reading of all of the illustrations of the period, much less over
the already substantial history of the illustrations of A Sentimental Journey .
Goring grounds his theoretical perspective in James Laver's 1929 assertion that "the
purpose of illustration was seen to be the creation of mood. Narrative content is often
subjugated by style in order to convey this sense of the book's 'prevailing sentiment', or at
least that which the illustrator interprets as prevailing" (56). Thus, in contrast to his list of
precise criteria that might be used to analyze illustrations, Goring' s emphasis shifts to
discern a more general idea of "mood" conveyed by the artwork, a hazy idea at best and
thus an uncertain foundation on which to organize either a critical or an historical analysis
of Sterne illustration.
Melvyn New investigates the relationship among William Hogarth, John Baldessari
(who provided artwork for a 1988 edition of Tristram Shandy ), and Sterne's text, finding
parallels in the similar artistic status of the two illustrators of Tristram Shandy , and
offering careful analysis of their respective work. Drawing a distinct contrast between the
two, he first observes that Hogarth appears to have worked in tandem with Sterne's
aesthetic (which owes something to Hogarth in the first place): "Trim's awkward stance
not only alludes directly to Sterne's text ... but also to Hogarth's 'signature' in the
drawing, the reference of Trim to the awkward dancers in his 'Country Dance' used to
illustrate the line of beauty (and its satiric counterpart) in his Analysis of Beauty " (183). 94
On the issue of referentiality, New demonstrates that Baldessari has an opposing
perspective, noting the artist's stated interest in the "liberation of artists from service to
anything but their own vision" (191). While the "transparency of Hogarth's illustration
allows us to see the text through the drawing," New contends, Baldessari 's is "an exercise
of authorial power with vengeance" (192). In addressing Baldessari' s non-traditional
renderings (as well as the artist's own philosophy), New argues for a visual portrayal of a
text that engages and meshes with its contents, and, in doing so perhaps identifies a useful
criterion for thinking about illustrations of texts in general, and of Sterne's texts in
In one of the most wide-ranging investigations of the history of book illustration of
Tristram Shandy . Andrew Ellam recognizes "the particular relevance of the visual to, and
its thematic resonance with," 95 Sterne's text, and he endeavors to encompass all of the
long history of illustration of the work "from its first publication to the present day" (par.
1) into his analysis; of course, in a short study, such an inclusive approach can at best be
only a sketch.
Echoing Gordon, Ellam maintains that illustrations create another level of meaning,
both an active interpretation of the text and (when substantial in number) a separate story
line. Ellam provides extended discussions of the book illustrations of Tristram Shandy by
Rooker, Austen, and Baldessari, as well as the Leslie painting of Uncle Toby and the
widow Wadman (which most likely should be considered as part of a separate illustrative
tradition), offering frequently insightful comparisons between different artists, as well as
close attention to composition and detail. (His discussion of Austen's artwork, borrowing
heavily from Priestley's Introduction, is overall one of the few rough spots in his
analysis. 96 ) However, the "constraints of space" cause Ellam to "summarise TS's
illustrative history" (par. 16), resulting in an irregular and incomplete survey of illustrated
editions of Tristram Shandy that renders some of his generalizations problematic. For
instance, his dismissive opinion of the artwork of Furniss and Wheeler as "mediocrity" is
not supported by examples which might have suggested thematic relationships with other
Ellam avoids conclusions about the themes and patterns that might be suggested by a
broader survey of the illustration of Tristram Shandy , and instead shifts the direction of his
discussion to engage the idea of what constitutes "appropriate" visual interpretation of the
text. Citing New's observation of the "intrusive" quality of Baldessari's approach, Ellam
glosses his perspective: "Arrogance and frivolity appear to be New's chief complaints of
Baldessari; both could be equally well made of Rowson. The respect which each of these
artists lacks for their text is displayed in their work" (par. 39). However, Ellam provides
no "reading" of Martin Rowson's comic book version of Tristram Shandy to support his
Ellam eventually positions himself as an apologist for laissez-faire illustration,
contradicting what he sees as New's assertion with his own view that "the intrusive
presence of the artist does not make the forms chosen by Rowson or Baldessari
automatically inappropriate to book illustration" (par. 41). New's rejection of a
generalized form of illustration as an "intrusion," but specifically the signature work of
Baldessari, which he identified as insensitive and arrogant, implies no such rejection of
Rowson's work; moreover, Rowson would disagree that he "illustrated" Sterne's work at
all. Ellam continues on this tangent, which is only peripherally related to the main thrust
of his study, stating that "to restrict illustration to traditional forms would confine it to the
unnecessary repetition both of previous artists and of its text" (par. 44). By concluding
with this obvious point, Ellam dodges more potentially interesting directions that would
reasonably evolve from a more careful and focused engagement with Sterne illustrations,
and the aesthetic questions they do naturally raise. 98
In what might be seen as further testimony to the profuse visual characteristics of
Sterne's text, visual representations of his work appear in less conventional forms, as well.
The critical commentary implied by the inventive comic-book version of Tristram Shandy
(mentioned is Ellam' s study) is examined in an essay by its own author, Martin Rowson,
who laconically explains that he "came to enhance Sterne, not mock him." 99 Commenting
on Rowson' s graphic novel, David H. Richter observes that the artist graphically
illustrates Sterne's storytelling technique of "narrativity and stasis," the balance between
forward-moving narration and when this narration "comes to a dead stop." 100 Rowson's
stasis, Richter explains, aside from paralleling Sterne's technique, provides a visual
equivalence to what D. W. Jefferson called the "tradition of learned wit" by pictorial
points of reference in lieu of Sterne's less-familiar textual ones, thus returning to modern
readers "an aspect of the text that . . . [they] can never directly experience" (88).
Although Richter is cynical about the ability of modern readers to comprehend Sterne's
scholarly digressions, his suggestion that a series of illustrations can mirror verbal
technique creates a useful vector for further pursuit in the study of book illustrations.
Visual portrayals of Sterne's work on decorative items suggest both the popularity of
his texts and their inherent visuality. De Voogd explores the background of a folding
paper fan produced in 1796 (reproduced in the Shandean) that features three oval-shaped
scenes from A Sentimental Journey : "Yorick and The Monk," "La Fleur and Madame De
L***," and "Yorick and The Glovers [ sic ] Wife"; these were presumably popular passages
at the time. De Voogd estimates that "millions of fans were made, sold and thrown away
each year" in the late-eighteenth century, and comments that "it is nice to know that
Sterne's text (which itself contains no reference to fans) was apparently popular enough to
cause this fan to be made" (134).
Similarly, I briefly investigate the frequent reproduction of the image of Maria of
Moulines on Wedgwood pieces at the end of the eighteenth century. More than a dozen
different pieces were adorned by the image, which seems to have been freely adapted from
the popular prints; these include medallion jewelry, teapots, sugar bowls, bud vases, and,
perhaps most striking, foot-high statuettes of the character labeled "Sterne's Maria." 102
This subject invites further examination, and I will explore it in more detail in Chapter 5 of
All of the previous examinations of the visual portrayals of Sterne's work — whether
addressing paintings, prints, or book illustrations— are valuable to this study as pieces of a
vast historical puzzle, a puzzle to which I hope to contribute a fragment or two to its
slowly evolving form. Especially useful here will be those studies that combine ekphrasis
with additional thematic examination, such as suggestions of the manifestation of cultural
attitudes in the style and context of the visualizations. These more complex approaches
not only provide models (both positive and negative) for my approach to similar
investigations, but they also offer opinions on trends of Sterne illustration that I will
engage as I proceed down similar paths. These engagements may embrace or reject
previous opinion, but in either instance they are the signposts that must be heeded as this
study addresses the interpretative function of the illustrations of Tristram Shandy and A
Sentimental Journey . The profuse and diverse discussion of the visual rhetoric of
Laurence Sterne and the 240 years of illustration of his texts testify to the real and abiding
relationship between word and picture in Sterne's work, a relationship which is far from
being completely explored; on the contrary, the many visual renditions of Sterne's words,
I contend, have much to reveal about implicit meanings in Tristram Shandy and A
Sentimental Journey , meanings that I will explore in the following chapters.
1. "Now, my dear Anti-Shandeans, and thrice able critics, and fellow-labourers, (for
to you I write this Preface) ..." (IS III.20.228.5-6).
2. Sterne: The Critical Heritage , ed. Alan B. Howes (London and Boston: Routledge
and Kegan Paul, 1974), 106. Hereafter Howes, and cited parenthetically in the text.
3. Beauties of Sterne . 1 1 th edition (London: G. Kearsley, 1790), vii, v.
4. For more on Sterne's use of art theory, see Holtz 19-65 and Brissenden.
5. Vicesimus Knox, Essays Moral and Literary . 9 th edition (London: Charles Dilly,
6. Paul Franssen, '"Great Lessons of Political Instruction': The Earl of Clonmell
Reads Sterne," Shandean 2 (1990): 160, 161. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.
7. For the corresponding passage, see ASJ 149-52.
8. In his notes (197 n. 11), Franssen states that "Clonmell is mistaken; not Belial, but
Adam is being praised for his eloquence. The speaker is Raphael ( Paradise Lost VIII 218-
9. Alan B. Howes, Yorick and the Critics: Sterne's Reputation in England. 1760-1868
(1958; New Haven, CT: Archon, 1971), 170.
1 0. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "Lectures of 1 8 1 8" in Coleridge's Miscellaneous
Criticism , ed. Thomas Middleton Raysor (Cambridge, MA: Harvard U. Press, 1936), 123,
1 1 . "Sterne: Critical Essay on His Writings and Genius" in Classic Tales Serious and
Lively with Critical Essays on the Merits and Reputation of the Authors , ed. Leigh Hunt
(London: John Hunt and Carew Reynell, 1807), 277. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the
12. Walter Scott, "Laurence Sterne" in Lives of Eminent Novelists and Dramatists
(1834; London: Frederick Warne, 1870), 519. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.
13. Edward Mangin. A View of the Pleasures Arising from the Love of Books: In
Letters to a Lady (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Browne, 1814), 92.
Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.
14. ASJ 71. For more on the background of Guido, see 71 n. 29.
15. For further discussion, see Chapter 1 .
16. In his article on Clonmell (153), Franssen notes that "Edwd Mangin" is written on
the inside front cover of the first volume of ClonmelPs edition of A Sentimental Journey .
17. William Makepeace Thackeray, "Sterne and Goldsmith" in The English
Humourists of the Eighteenth Century (London: Smith, Elder, 1853), 289. Hereafter cited
parenthetically in the text.
18. Percy Fitzgerald, The Life of Laurence Sterne (1864; London: Downey, 1896),
1 :56. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.
19. Whitwell Elwin, "Sterne" in Some XVIII Century Men of Letters , ed. Warwick
Elwin (London: John Murray, 1902), 2:69. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.
20. Dugald Stewart, Collected Works (Edinburgh: T. Constable, 1854), 2:452.
21. Walter Bagehot, The Collected Works of Walter Bagehot: The Literary Essays .
ed. Norman St. John-Stevas (Cambridge, MA: Harvard U. Press, 1965), 2:288. Hereafter
cited parenthetically in the text.
22. H. D. Traill, Sterne (London: Macmillan, 1889), 79. Hereafter cited
parenthetically in the text.
23. Leslie Stephen, Hours in a Library (1892; New York: Johnson Reprint, 1968),
24. Thomas Seccombe, "Laurence Sterne" in The Age of Johnson: 1748-1798
(London: George Bell and Sons, 1909), 186.
25. Charles Whibley, "Laurence Sterne" in Studies in Frankness (1898; London:
Kennikat, 1970), 102, 94.
26. Stephen 163.
27. Seccombe 185.
28. George Saintsbury, Introduction to The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy
Gentleman (London: J. M. Dent, 1 894), 1 :ix.
29. Seccombe 185.
30. Thackeray's influence dies hard, and not until the mid-twentieth century is Sterne
finally released from it — although even as astute a modern critic as Christopher Ricks will
borrow Thackeray's "mawkish" to characterize Bramine's Journal in his introductory
essay to a recent edition of Tristram Shandy ([London and New York: Penguin, 1997], x).
31. Whibley 93.
32. Stephen 172.
33. Wilbur L. Cross, "The Eighteenth-Century Realists" in The Development of the
English Novel (1899; New York: Macmillan, 1963), 73.
34. Walter Sichel, Sterne: A Study (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott; London: Williams
andNorgate, 1910), 178, 183. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.
35. T_SVII.29.623. 10-15.
36. Victor Shklovsky, "Sterne's Tristram Shandy : Stylistic Commentary" in Russian
Formalist Criticism , ed. Lee T. Leeman and Marian J. Reis (1921; Lincoln, NE: U. of
Nebraska Press, 1965), 57, 28.
37. J. B. Priestley, Introduction to The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandv.
Gentleman (New York: Dodd, Mead; London: John Lane, 1928), vi. Hereafter cited
parenthetically in the text.
38. Letters 79. The term " ornamenta ambitiosa " — literally "ambitious (or
ostentatious) ornament"— is evidently derived from Horace [Quintus Horatii Flacci], "Ars
Poetica," Satirae. Epistolae. Ars Poetica (London: Lockwood, 1872) 97: 445-50:
Vir bonus et prudens versus reprehendet inertes,
Culpabit duros, incomptis adlinet atrum
Traverso calamo signum, ambitiosa recidet
Ornamenta, parum Claris lucem dare coget,
Arguet ambigue dictum, mutanda notabit,
(A good and skilled man will censure the feeble verse,
Will criticize the harsh [verse], will smear through the unpolished [verse]
With a mark of a pen, will cut away ambitious
Ornament, will know to give luster to [verse] with too little light,
Will prove doubtful words, will mark that which needs to be changed,
To be an Aristarchus;)
39. J. B. Priestley, "The Brothers Shandy" in The English Comic Characters (New
York: Dodd, Mead, 1925), 128-29. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.
40. Wilbur L. Cross, The Life and Times of Laurence Sterne (1909; New Haven, CT:
Yale U. Press, 1925), 1 : 107-9. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text. For further
discussion regarding artwork for a volume of poetry by Michael Woodhull signed "L.
Stern del Romae," see Arthur H. Cash, Laurence Sterne: The Early and Middle Years
(London: Methuen, 1975), 212 n. 1. It is worth noting, however, that Woodhull was
possibly a subscriber to the posthumous edition of Sterne's Sermons in 1769.
41. E. A. Baker, "Sterne" in The History of the English Novel (1929; New York:
Barnes and Noble, 1950), 263. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.
43. Virginia Woolf, Introduction to A Sentimental Journey (Oxford and New York:
Oxford U. Press, n.d. [c. 1929]), xi, x.
44. ASJ 171.29-31.
45. ASJ 170ff.
46. Virginia Woolf, "The 'Sentimental Journey,'" in The Second Common Reader
(New York: HBJ, 1932), 84. In his Introduction to The Life and Opinions of Tristram
Shandv. Gentleman (New York: Heritage, 1935), Christopher Morley recognizes an
aspect of this " short hand " in Sterne's work, noting that "perhaps no writer has ever
lingered with more tender and malicious effect upon the momentary postures which betray
our human oddity" (v). While interesting in the context of Woolf s comments, Morley's
observations also invite further inquiry: what "human oddity" is revealed, and why is
Sterne so successful in its portrayal?
47. Elizabeth Bowen, English Novelists (London: Collins, 1947), 20.
48. Albert Baugh, A Literary History of England (New York: Appleton-Century-
Crofts, 1948), 1024.
49. Arnold Kettle, An Introduction to the English Novel (1951; London: Hutchinson,
50. John Cowper Powys, Introduction to The Life and Opinions o f Tristram Shandv
(London: Macdonald, 1949), 29. Both editions of Sterne which include introductions by
Powys are also heavily ornamented with original illustrations by Brian Robb.
51 . John Cowper Powys, Introduction to A Sentimental Journey (New York:
Capricorn Books, 1964), 22.
52. Ian Watt. The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe. Richardson and Fielding
(Berkeley and Los Angeles: U. of California Press, 1957), 291. In his essay, "Laurence
Sterne" in The Early Masters of English Fiction (Lawrence, KS: U. of Kansas Press;
London: Constable, 1962), Alan Dugald McKillop points out the paradox of Sterne's
"realism" in comparison to other prose writers of the eighteenth century, thus quietly
refuting Watt: "We do not find in Sterne formally described interiors, but we have details
of costume, furniture, and other impedimenta given as never before" (189).
53. IS 22.214.171.124-23.
54. Wolfgang Iser, "The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach,"
Twentieth-Century Literary Theory , ed. Vassilis Lambropoulos and David Neal Miller
(Albany, NY: State U. of New York Press, 1987), 382. Hereafter cited parenthetically in
56. R. F. Brissenden, "Sterne and Painting" in Of Books and Humankind: Essays and
Poems Presented to Bonamy Dobree , ed. John Butt, J. M. Cameron, D. W. Jefferson, and
Robin Skelton (London: Routledge, 1964), 93, 105. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the
57. In "The Rococo Style of Tristram Shandv " ( Bucknell Review: A Scholarly
Journal of Letters. Arts and Sciences 24:2 : 38-55), Gerald P. Tyson attempts to
put Sterne's visuality within a specific thematic perspective by pursuing Brissenden' s
suggestion of Sterne's "rococo" style; he specifically addresses "the relations between
rococo style in the visual arts and the rococo style of this novel in the hope that such an
inquiry can offer a fuller and deeper knowledge of the work's technique" (38). Tyson
proposes to evaluate the influence of "the gestalt of rococo art" which implies "a
characteristic ontology shared both by the artists who created this style and the audience
that embraced it" (39). Noting graphic elements, missing pages and transposed elements.
all of which "call attention to the book as object" (43), Tyson ties this self-conscious
quality of the work to the rococo.
58. William V Holtz. Image and Immortality: A Study of "Tristram Shandy"
(Providence, RI: Brown U. Press, 1970), 15. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.
59. For further discussion of ut pictura poesis see Jean H. Hagstrum, The Sister Arts:
The Tradition of Literary Pictorialism and English Poetry from Drvden to Gray (1958;
Chicago and London: U. of Chicago Press, 1987).
60. Examining the illustration of sentimental novels in "Description and Tableau in the
Eighteenth-Century British Sentimental Novel" ( Eighteenth-Century Fiction 8:4 :
34-55), Anne Patricia Williams discusses Sterne's depiction of Le Fever's death as a
visualized tableau that "relies on gesture and external expression for its emotional import"
(473). Williams observes the particularly visual aspects of the scene: "The characters are
wordless. Language cannot represent the sentiments they express, Le Fever's love for his
son and the comfort he feels in entrusting him to Toby." The visual element of the scene,
which Williams suggests "constitutes a single moment through a series of simultaneous
gestures, with the actors organized spatially around the bed" (475), is thus heightened by
the lack of dialogue and the consequent need to focus on appearance to find significance.
Williams points out that, in the language of sentiment, "body position and expressiveness
of glance were understood as the indicators of meaning" (475), making the scene
attractive to visual depiction in a drawing or painting. Sterne's frequent use of the
meticulously composed and detailed scene is replete with significant, but coded gesture;
Williams's discussion, in fact, can easily be extended to survey not only Sterne's pictorial
scenes, but also how their renderings in words mimic their effectiveness in other media.
61. For further discussion of Sterne's perspective toward his portraits, see Chapter 1,
62. Martin C. Battestin, The Providence of Wit: Aspects of Form in Augustan
Literature and the Arts (Oxford: Clarendon, 1974), 264-65. Hereafter cited
parenthetically in the text.
63. Arthur H. Cash, Laurence Sterne: The Early and Middle Years (London:
Methuen, 1975), 212. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.
64. Henri Fluchere, Laurence Sterne: From Tristram to Yorick . trans. Barbara Bray
(1961; London and New York: Oxford U. Press, 1965), 271. Hereafter cited
parenthetically in the text.
65. Christopher Fanning, "On Sterne's Page: Spatial Layout, Spatial Form, and Social
Spaces in Tristram Shandv ." Eighteenth-Century Fiction 10:4 (1998): 430. Hereafter
cited parenthetically in the text.
66. Elizabeth Wanning Harries, "Gathering Up the Fragments: Hamann, Herder,
Sterne," in The Unfinished Manner: Essays on the Fragment in the Later Eighteenth
Century (Charlottesville, VA: U. of Virginia Press, 1994), 35. Hereafter cited
parenthetically in the text.
67. An alternative to Harries' s visual theme of the fragment is proposed by Steven
Soud in '"Weavers, Gardeners, and Gladiators': Labyrinths in Tristram Shandy "
( Eighteenth-Century Studies 28:4 : 397-41 1). Soud suggests that the form of the
labyrinth "embodies Sterne's most fundamental insight into human nature: as temporal,
mundane beings we are compelled to impose upon a labyrinthine world our self-made
labyrinths that work, albeit unsuccessfully, to satisfy our urge for coherence amidst chaos"
(398). Soud focuses on the labyrinthine structures mentioned in the text: Toby's
fortifications, for instance, can be seen as "a form — a parody, perhaps — of the garden
labyrinth" (400). Yet the bowling green, Soud points out, is a surrogate for the labyrinth
of trench- works at Namur where Toby received his wound, and is a place where Toby can
"reestablish his lost control" (403) by imposing his order on the labyrinthine confusion of
existence. However, Soud concludes, Tristram (like Toby), in his vain attempts to arrange
the story of his life, falls prey to his own desire for order: "in weaving a labyrinth, he is
paradoxically at the same time entrapped by it" (407). Although Soud's observation of a
pervasive visual structure in Tristram Shandy can be seen as an extension of the author's
visuality, unlike the structural standards proposed by Fanning or Harries, the labyrinth
does not appear to have graphic parallels in the text.
Pat Rogers, in "Ziggerzagger Shandy: Sterne and the Aesthetics of the Crooked Line"
( English: The Journal of the English Association 47:173 : 97-107), suggests the
significance of the zigzag "shape" of the narrative line in Tristram Shandy , which is
paralleled by the repetition of that form in structures mentioned in the text, including
military fortifications and cabbage beds. Arguing against Brissenden and Tyson, Rogers
suggests that the returning angles of the zigzag "have a direct bearing on the narratology
of the novel" (97) and that "the line of Shandy .... owes less to current rococo trends
than to the zigzaggery of architecture and military engineering" (98). Rogers identifies the
zigzag form as pervasive in Tristram Shandy , stating that "even at the smallest level of
literary organization, within individual sentences, the same basic model can often be
68. Peter J. de Voogd, "Laurence Sterne, the Marbled Page, and 'the Use of
Accidents,'" Word & Image 1:3 (1985): 279. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.
69. Different aspects of the marbled page are the subject of several other studies, as
well. In " Tristram Shandy : The Marbled Leaf ( Library 27 : 143-45), W. G. Day
addresses the difficulties in inserting the marbled leaf into the volume; Susan Otis
Thompson's " Tristram Shandv : The Marbled Leaf ( Library 28 : 160-61)
supplements Day's discussion. Other examinations of the marbled pages include T. John
Jamieson, "A Note on the Marbled Page in Tristram Shandy," American Notes and
Queries 16 (1977): 56; Alexander Whyte Whitaker, "Emblems in Motley: Literary
Implications of the Graphic Device in Tristram Shandv ." DAI 40 (1979): 1487A-88A;
Diana Patterson, '" The Moral of the Next Marbled Page' in 'Tristram Shandy,'" DAI
50:9 (1990): 291 1 A; Peter de Voogd, "'0. C and the Marbled Page." Shandean 2
(1990): 231-33; Diana Patterson, "Tristram's Marbling and Marblers," Shandean 3
(1991): 70-97; and Alain Bony, "La Couture et le Gond: La Page Marbree dans Tristram
Shandy," Etudes Anelaises: Grande-Bretagne. Etats-Unis 37:1 (1984): 14-27.
Several unpublished studies unavailable as of this writing address aspects of Sterne's
visuality: Stephen V. Whaley, "The Optics of Shandyism" (DAI 33 : 4371A); Anne
R. Null, "Imagery in Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy (DAI 25 : 6 104 A]; Peter
Ford, '"No Gross Daubing': Tristram Shandv and the Visual Arts" (unpublished MA
thesis  S.U.N. Y. New Paltz); and Karen Lisa Schiff, "The Look of the Book: Visual
Elements in the Experience of Reading 'Tristram Shandy' to Contemporary Books" (DAI
59:7 ): 2488-89.
70. William Holtz, "Typography, Tristram Shandv . the Aposiopesis, etc." T_he
Winged Skull , ed. Arthur H. Cash and John M. Stedmond (Kent, OH: Kent State U.
Press, 1971), 247-57. Here Holtz suggests that non-verbal elements in Sterne's text
convey a distrust of the adequacy of language.
Other discussions of the graphics and typography in Sterne's work include Roger
Moss, "Sterne's Punctuation," Eighteenth-Century Studies 15 (1981-82): 179-200; Anne
Bandry, "Tristram Shandy ou le plaisir du tiret," Etudes Anelaises: Grande-Bretagne,
Etats Unis 41:2 (1988): 143-54; Jean-Claude Dupas, '"Carre blanc' ou la page blanche de
Tristram Shandy," in L'Erotisme en Aneleterre XVIIe-XVIIIe siecles . ed. Jean-Francois
Gournay (Lille, FR: Presse U. de Lille, 1992), 39-50; Andrew Walter Hazucha,
"Typography as Text: Revisions of Meaning in the Works of Laurence Sterne," DAI
54:10 (1994): 3756A-57A; J. Paul Hunter, "From Typology to Type: Agents of Change in
Eighteenth Century English Texts," in Cultural Artifacts and the Production of Meaning:
The Page, the Image, and the Body , ed. Margaret J. M. Ezell and Katherine O'Brien
O'Keefe (Ann Arbor, MI: U. of Michigan Press, 1994), 41-69; Michael Vande Berg,
'"Pictures of Pronunciation': Typographical Travels through Tristram Shandv and Jacques
le fataliste ." Eighteenth-Century Studies 21:1 (1987): 21-47; and Manuel Portela,
"Typographic Translation: The Portuguese Edition of Tristram Shandv (1997-98)," in
Marking the Text: The Presentation of Meaning on the Literary Page , ed. Miriam
Handley and Anne C. Henry (Ashgate, Aldershot, UK: n.p., 2000), 291-308.
In "A Portrait and a Flourish" ( Shandean 1 : 129-32), de Voogd presents
evidence which suggests a historical source for Sterne's inspiration for the graphic flourish
of Trim's walking stick in Tristram Shandv .
71 . Peter de Voogd, " Tristram Shandv as a Aesthetic Object," Word & Image 4: 1
(1988): 383. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text. Hereafter cited parenthetically in
72. T. C. D. Eaves, "Graphic Illustrations of the Principal English Novels of the
Eighteenth Century" (diss. Harvard U, 1944), 258.
73. T. C. D. Eaves, "George Romney: His Tristram Shandy Paintings and Trip to
Lancaster," Huntington Library Quarterly 2 (1944): 323.
74. Catherine Gordon, '"More Than One Handle': The Development of Sterne
Illustration 1760-1820," Words: Wai-te-Ata Studies in Literature 4 (Wellington: Wai-te-
Ata, 1974), 47. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text as "MTOH "
Because Gordon's two studies overlap in both critical approach and subject matter,
they merit simultaneous examination. Additional citations are from British Paintings of
Subjects from the English Novel 1740-1870 . Outstanding Theses in the Fine Arts from
British Universities (New York: Garland, 1988), hereafter cited parenthetically in the text
75. For another perspective on the many derivations of Sterne's image from the
Reynolds portrait, see Bosch, n. 25 below.
76. Richard D. Altick, Paintings from Books: Art and Literature in Britain. 1760-1900
(Columbus, OH: Ohio State U. Press, 1985), 335. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the
77. W. G. Day, "Charles Robert Leslie's 'My Uncle Toby and the Widow Wadman"
The Nineteenth-Century Icon of Sterne's Work," Shandean 9 (1997): 88, after Charles
Robert Leslie, Autobiographical Recollections: Bv the Late Charles Robe rt Leslie. R.A..
ed. T. Taylor (London: John Murray, 1860), Llviii. Day's article is hereafter cited
parenthetically in the text.
78. Peter de Voogd's note on the stereoscope slide of the statue derived from Leslie's
painting and my own note on the Vanity Fair political cartoon inspired by the painting are
scheduled to appear in Shandean 13 (2002).
79. Tangential to the study of the paintings of Sterne's work is the discussion of the
portrait paintings of Sterne himself. In Laurence Sterne: The Early and Middle Years .
Cash includes an appendix (299-316) that catalogues the portraits, including some
inauthentic examples. Rene Bosch explores how Reynolds's portrait suggests future
characterizations of Sterne in the frontispiece engravings taken from the painting in
"'Character' in Reynolds' Portrait of Sterne," ( Shandean 6 : 8-23). A brief note on
Sir Joshua Reynolds's 1760 portrait of Sterne appears in JLS (28 Feb 1975: 222). In
addition, de Voogd locates an image of Sterne-as- Yorick in a 1783 geography book in "A
Portrait and a Flourish" ( Shandean 1 : 129-32). Paul Kaufman, in "A True Image
of Laurence Sterne" ( BNYPL 66:10 : 653-56), describes the bronze statue of
Sterne in York Minster Library and disputes whether a painting attributed to
Gainsborough is actually of Sterne.
In addition to the studies noted here, a short discussion of the role of painting in A
Sentimental Journey . Paul Denizot's "Ecriture et peinture dans Le Voyage Sentimental "
( Bulletin de la Societe d'Etudes Anglo- Americaines des XVIIe et XVHIe Siecles 40
: 35-46), was unavailable at the time of this writing.
80. Peter de Voogd, "Robert DightorTs Twelve Tristram Shandy Prints," Shandean 6
(1994): 88. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.
81. David Alexander, "Sterne, the ^-Century Print Market, and the Prints at Shandy
Hall," Shandean 5 (1993): 118. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.
82. Peter de Voogd, "Henry William Bunbury, Illustrator of Tristram Shandy ."
Shandean 3 (1991): 140. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text. W. G. Day
supplements de Voogd 's study with the discovery of "Another Bunbury" ( Shandean 4
83. De Voogd, "Dighton," 87.
84. David McKitterick argues for a clear distinction between the trades in "Tristram
Shandy in the Royal Academy: A Group of Drawings by John Nixon" ( Shandean 4
: 85-1 10), pointing out that "the tradition of caricature . . . was quite independent
of booksellers, usually employing a quite separate group of artists. Print trade and book
trade might nudge each other; but in the 1770s and 1780s they did not often collaborate"
85. W. G. Day, "Michael Angelo Rooker's Illustrations to 'Tristram Shandy,'"
Shandean 7 (1995): 32. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.
86. For a plate, probably by Rooker, which predates the 1780 edition of Works , see
W. B. Gerard, "A Rooker Predating" (Shandean 11 [2000-1]: 147-50).
87. McKitterick 85. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.
88. McKitterick catalogues the subjects of Nixon's twelve illustrations: "Uncle Toby
and Corporal Trim"; "The arrival of Dr. Slop; Obadiah in the doorway, uncle Toby and
my father at the table"; "Uncle Toby, my father and Dr. Slop"; "The beginning of
Slawkenbergius' Tale"; "Uncle Toby and my father; news of Bobby's death"; "The
scullion, Susannah, Corporal Trim, Obadiah and the coachman; news of Bobby's death";
"Le Fever and uncle Toby"; "Walter Shandy's bed of justice"; "Corporal Trim and Uncle
Toby beside the summer house"; "The wife of the chaise- vamper at Lyons"; and "Widow
Wadman and uncle Toby."
89. Eaves, "Graphic Illustration," 230. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.
Quote from Joshua Reynolds's "Discourse IV," Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds , ed. Henry
William Beechy (London: n.p., 1886), 1:345.
90. Serge Soupel, "Lavielle, Hendouin, Leloir and the Voyage Sentimental ."
Shandean 2 (1990): 203.
91. Serge Soupel, "Marold's Voyage Sentimental ." Shandean 8 (1996): 121.
92. This is especially problematic in light of the number of illustrations in some of
these editions; Leloir's A Sentimental Journey , for instance, contains over two hundred
pieces of artwork.
93. Paul Goring, "Illustration of A Sentimental Journey in the 1920s," Shandean 6
(1994): 55. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.
94. Melvyn New, "William Hogarth and John Baldessari: Ornamenting Sterne's
Tristram Shandv ." Word & Image 1 1 :2 (1995): 182. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the
text. The instrumental role played by Hogarth's Country Dance is also suggested by its
use on the cover of the recent Penguin edition of Tristram Shandy .
95. Andrew Ellam, From Sterne to Baldessari: The Illustration of "Tristram Shandy ."
1760-1996 . 14 July 2001 <http://www.aellam.net/ts/index.html>, par. 1. Hereafter cited
parenthetically in the text by paragraph.
96. Ellam par. 32-34. For discussion of Priestley's commentary on Austen's work,
see Chapter 2, Part 1, 71-73.
97. Rowson is not mentioned at all in New's discussion on Baldessari, a fact that is
hardly surprising as Rowson' s work was published after New's study.
98. Unpublished studies of Sterne illustration unavailable as of this writing include
Paul Goring, "Illustration as Interpretation: A Study of Illustrated Editions of Laurence
Sterne's A Sentimental Journey " (unpublished Master's thesis, U. of Wales, 1993).
99. Martin Rowson, "Hyperboling Gravity's Ravelin: A Comic Book Version of
Tristram Shandv ." Shandean 7 (1995): 66.
100. David H. Richter, "Narrativity and Stasis in Tristram Shandy ." Shandean 1 1
(1999-2000): 70. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.
101. Peter de Voogd, "Sterne All the Fashion: A Sentimental Fan," Shandean 8
(1996): 133. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.
102. W. B. Gerard, "'Poor Maria' in Wedgwood," Shandean 12 (2001): 78-88.
Worth noting in brief, as well, are the discussions of visualizing of Sterne's texts on
stage, film, and television: Ambarnath Catterjee, "Dramatic Technique in Tristram
Shandv. " Indian Journal of English Studies 6 (1965): 33-43; Martha S. Damf, " Tristram
Shandy : A Dramatic Adaptation," (unpublished Master's thesis, Vanderbilt, 1966);
Lodwick Hartley, "Laurence Sterne and the Eighteenth-Century Stage," PLL 4 (1968):
144-57; Marsha Kinder and Beverle Houston, "A Critical Adaptation of Tristram
Shandy. " Eighteenth-Century Studies 10 (1977): 484-92; and Peter Steele, "Sterne's
Script: The Performing of Tristram Shandy ." in Augustan Studies , ed. Douglas Lane Patey
and Timothy Keegan (Newark, DE: U. of Delaware Press, 1985), 195-204.
TO "MUTUALLY ILLUTRATE HIS SYSTEM & MINE": 1
EIGHT WAYS OF LOOKING AT "TRIM READING THE SERMON "1883-1995
Several factors contributed to the increased popular and critical interest in Sterne's
work in the early-twentieth century: a more balanced, less Victorian, perspective toward
Sterne and his work as set forth by Wilbur L. Cross and others; new interest in prose
stylistics and experimentation by modernists, for whom Sterne was an exemplar; and
lastly, a renewed interest in the eighteenth century as a whole, as the seedbed for both
modernist and post-modernist reactions against the nineteenth century. In this chapter, I
will demonstrate how this renewed enthusiasm for Sterne, which persisted to the end of
the century, is manifested in the shifting perspectives of eight book illustrators through
their depictions of "Trim reading the sermon."
Each of these illustrations reflects a specific way of seeing Tristram Shandy , the result
of what W. J. T. Mitchell calls "the artful planting of certain clues in a picture" which
"endows the picture with eloquence." 2 The elements within each illustration, the "pictured
objects," along with the "setting, compositional arrangement, and color scheme," Mitchell
asserts, "may all carry [an] expressive charge" that "conveyfs] moods and emotional
atmospheres." 3 I suggest that the "clues" that Mitchell endows with significant analytical
value combine in an illustration to convey the idea of a system, a specific method of
understanding the text. And, in the example of "Trim reading the sermon," the
perspectives expressed by these systems provide unique insight into how Sterne was
viewed, critically and culturally, over the course of 1 10 years.
In addition, all of the illustrations establish a relationship to Hogarth's rendition of
"Trim reading the Sermon" [see fig. 1-1], considered in Chapter 1 of this study as one of
the necessary starting points for any discussion of Sterne's visuality. This unique standard
of the text-image dynamic was requested by Sterne specifically to illustrate this scene
(through a third party), the text of which contains allusions to Hogarth's work; this is the
only known instance of Sterne asking for an illustration, much less a specific one. The
resulting illustration is a particularly "transparent" (to borrow a term from Melvyn New)
projection of Sterne's text, duplicating the verbal description and mood, with only minor
additions to the content of Sterne's original verbal "picture." 5 The relevance of Hogarth's
version of the scene some 230 years after it first appeared has been recognized recently by
its reproduction in the recent Penguin edition of Tristram Shandy ; it is reproduced as well
in the scholarly Florida edition. 6
Owing perhaps either to its potential for expressiveness or a sense of tradition, the
scene of "Trim reading the sermon" is also probably the most frequently illustrated
passage from Sterne in the twentieth century, thus providing a broad range of material for
analysis. This diverse sampling is further enhanced by contemporaneous discussions of the
scene, and, more generally, of the goings-on in the Shandy parlor, and I will include
excerpts from some of this relevant commentary to augment the perspectives suggested by
the artwork. These contemporary criticisms, most published within a decade of the
appearance of the illustrated editions (if not actually within the edition itself), reinforce the
different systems suggested by the illustrations.
The illustration of the scene by Harry Furniss for an 1883 edition of Tristram Shandy
[see fig. 3-1] provides a useful starting point from which to start mapping changing
attitudes toward Sterne. Furniss' s artwork appears at a time when several critics still
found fault with Sterne and his work largely because of the circulation of unfavorable
stories about the parson from York (some of them true); the period's negative perspective
is perhaps best represented by Thackeray's quite thorough biographical and aesthetic
condemnation of Sterne in his lectures published in 1853. 7 By Furniss' s time, however,
some gestures had appeared (such as Percy Fitzgerald's apologetic biography, and the
publication of new, but non-illustrated, editions of Tristram Shandy by David Herbert
 and James P. Browne ) that reflected a possible reconciliation between
Sterne and the reading public.
By its very existence, Furniss' s illustration can be considered as one of these gestures,
a careful negotiation of a subject by an author still deemed to be in questionable taste.
Furniss' s depiction of the scene seems, to a modern eye, somber, spare, and static. The
parlor, framed vertically like Hogarth's, is small and dark, the walls are unadorned, and
the only furniture in evidence are chairs crowded next to each other. Furniss follows the
rules of orthodoxy in his composition, depicting Trim in the center of the picture, standing
in profile, although perhaps too stooped over the sermon; his position is contrived and
awkward, belying Sterne's depiction of the corporal's natural grace and suggesting that
Sterne's text is being somehow subverted. The face of Walter expresses unsmiling
concern here, and Toby's is nearly featureless, but clearly directed toward Trim. The
grotesque quality of Slop's expression suggests a more permanent repose, if not a
caricature of Dr. Johnson. Still, although the illustration seems to lack liveliness (which
may, admittedly, be accentuated by the comparison with Hogarth), the picture can be seen
as depicting a feeling moment in the intimate environment of the Shandy parlor. Walter
and Toby form a contained unit with Trim leaning toward them, while Slop, on the other
side of the room and emerging from behind Trim, is clearly outside this circle of intimacy.
The seeming interest of Walter and Toby in the sermon reinforces the centrality of the
document to the scene, perhaps suggesting that the message conveyed by the sermon's
text is beginning to be heard over individual characterization or background. The intense
engagement of the Shandy brothers in the reading brings to mind the quality of absorption
identified by Michael Fried (noted above in Chapter 3) in reference to Jean-Baptiste
Greuze's painting Un Pere de famille qui lit la Bible a ses enfants [see fig. 3-2]. Although
Furniss is not as "persuasive" as Greuze in portraying his characters as " wholly absorbed
in the reading itself," 8 the Shandys are indeed solely focused on Trim's reading of a
sacramentalized text, much as the family in Greuze's painting is focused on the father's
reading of the Bible. No icons such as hats, maps, or footstools are present, depriving the
scene of distracting references. (The lack of reminders of Toby's wound in his groin
might correspond with the admiration of the character by the Victorians, perhaps most
famously portrayed in the image of a healthy, though still naive, Toby in Charles Robert
Leslie's popular painting, where Toby's cane is almost — but not quite — hidden [see fig. 5-
16].) Even Slop's non-engagement serves a purpose, stressing the interest expressed by
the other characters with a distinct contrast, and paralleling the role played by the small
child in the lower right of Un Pere de famille .
In contrast to the somber and thus un-Sternean atmosphere Furniss presents, one
might also detect a comic contrast between the attentiveness of the Shandys and Slop's
state of oblivion. The gentle humor of the comparison ennobles Walter and Toby and
recalls Sterne's mockery of Slop; at the same time, it projects a "safe" (though admittedly
low-key) humor that echoes Victorian perspectives toward Sterne, the rejection of bawdy
or religiously irreverent aspects of Sterne's comedy. Critics of the late-nineteenth century
placed emphasis on the masculine intimacy of Shandy Hall and its gentle good humor,
seeing it as a contrast (and, to an extent, a remedy) to what was seen as Tristram Shandy 's
unacceptable comic elements and Sterne's own questionable history. Leslie Stephen
praises "that wonderful group of characters who are antagonistic to the spurious wit based
upon simple shocks to a sense of decency. That group redeems the book .... We must
therefore admit that the creator of Uncle Toby and his family must not be unreservedly
condemned." 9 Charles Whibley repeats Stephen's enthusiasm, claiming that "to speak
temperately of the brothers Shandy is impossible .... They are eternal with the eternity of
literature." 10 In keeping with Furniss's depiction, Whitwell Elwin notes that "Dr. Slop is
never introduced upon the scene except to expose him to contempt." 11 These ingredients
of emphasis on Walter and Toby, a quality of gentle, non-risque humor (if it exists at all),
and, perhaps, a focus on the seriousness of the sermon, all combine to identify Furniss's
depiction as a product of Victorian sensibilities.
The efforts of Wilbur Cross to assess Sterne more objectively, in conjunction with
shifting public values at the turn of the century, may have helped to create a new
perspective toward Sterne and his work. The 1920s and 1930s saw an explosion in book
publishing in general, and four new illustrated editions of Tristram Shandy appeared
between 1925 and 1936. They are among the most lavishly illustrated treatments of the
text, with scores of new drawings; three of the four include new renditions of "Trim
reading the sermon."
The first of these is Rowland Wheelwright's 1926 color rendering, which stands as the
only truly polychromatic illustration of the scene [see fig. 3-3]. Wheelwright captures a
clearly identifiable moment in the passage, toward the end of the reading, when there is
"but a leaf or two left" (TS II. 17. 161). As he is reading the sermon, Trim is deeply
affected by the parallel between the description of the tormented prisoner and his brother's
predicament, and finally can no longer control his feelings: "Oh! 'tis my brother, cried
poor Trim in a most passionate exclamation, dropping the sermon upon the ground and
clapping his hands together 1 fear 'tis poor Tom " ( TS II. 17. 162). The choice of this
particular moment is a marked departure from the opening of the passage illustrated by
Hogarth and Furniss, both of whom seem consciously to reflect on Sterne's elaborate
verbal description of Trim's posture.
The style of Wheelwright's depiction recalls book illustrations of the late- Victorian
era, a detailed rendering of character and setting touched with a Pre-Raphaelite glow. All
the figures are focused on a very gentlemanly Trim, whose hands and head are captured in
an expressive gesture of noble grief that transcends words; his position and bright coloring
ensure his visual domination of the image. The Shandy brothers, off to the side of Trim,
are scaled smaller than in Furniss's rendering, and seem not to be sharing Trim's emotion,
but witness it at a remove. The potentially comic figure of Slop is minimized, pictured in
partial profile and directly facing Trim, as if the speaker were addressing the atrocities of
the Inquisition specifically to the doctor.
As if to accentuate the emotional aspect of the scene, many of the traditional icons,
which may be associated with comic episodes (such as the clock, or the walking stick), are
not present. A footstool, usually associated with Toby, an overcoat (perhaps Slop's?)
discreetly thrown over a chair, and the Shandys' long-stemmed pipes, remain as allusions
to the text (and perhaps to Hogarth, as well.) Notable is the unusual size and splendor the
Shandy parlor assumes in the Wheelwright rendition (which is further accentuated by its
color reproduction in a quarto volume measuring four times the size of Hogarth's
illustration), with elaborate window hangings, tall, expansive, multi-paned windows, an
elegant portrait over the fireplace, and a large (Turkish?) carpet, all of which are
imaginative supplements to the text, perhaps suggesting a class association with the
sentimentalism portrayed. Andrew Ellam suggests that Wheelwright's illustrations "aspire
to the heights of prettiness" and adds that his work (like Cleland's, which will be discussed
shortly) "de- vivifies TS into costume drama." 12 The emphasis on setting and costume in
Wheelwright's picture does seem to reduce its focus on the psychological aspects of the
scene, but it is clearly meant to depict, in its own time and place, an emotionally dramatic
Wheelwright's picture clearly stresses the sentimental aspect of the sermon-reading
passage, particularly emphasizing the physical manifestation of Trim's distress, which he
feels, after all, for the imagined distress of his brother Tom — and in which the viewer is
invited to share, as well. Significantly, it captures a moment in which emotion prevails
over verbal expression, when a pictorial description of some sort must appear to explain
what dialogue cannot; indeed, Trim's act of dropping the sermon, like the natural grace he
projects when he begins his reading, demonstrates a purely physical eloquence beyond
words, which in the first instance at least defies Sterne's comic verbal description.
Writing a year later, E. A. Baker observes that in Sterne's sermons "the sentimental
vein comes out strongly in the retelling of pathetic stories" and that "Sterne prided himself
more on his faculty for experiencing and expressing sentiment than any other gift."
Baker thus reinforces the centrality of sentiment to Sterne's work, although he does allow
that it "too often strikes the ordinary cold-blooded reader as false sentiment." 14 Baker's
willingness to assign some credibility to Sterne's sentimentalism as a positive feature of his
work, in contrast to the late- Victorian critics who saw it as a negative quality, suggests a
broad change in the perception of Sterne, a change reflected in the sincere depiction of a
feeling moment in Wheelwright's illustration.
In several ways, John Austen's black-and-white depiction of the scene [see fig. 3-4]
represents a radical stylistic departure from previous visualizations. Austen's abstracted
characters are reduced to bold, sweeping curves, frequently manifested as graceful arcs
that combine into Hogarthian serpentine lines. Some suggestion of movement can be seen
in the nondefinitional arcs extending from Walter's and Trim's right hands, which serve to
both animate the tableau and enclose the pairs of characters into implied oppositional
circles: the naive and feeling Trim and Toby in one, the cynical Walter and Slop in
another. The consistently spaced, bold crosshatching that indicates shading stands in
contrast to the almost invisibly blended work of Hogarth and Furniss, and, in conjunction
with the exaggerated forms of the characters, calls attention to Sterne's careful
arrangement of the scene as a tableau.
Notably, Austen is the first illustrator of the scene to work without a frame to contain
the action, instead allowing the characters themselves to shape the image on the page.
The composition, in fact, includes only the four characters and two minimally defined
chairs; there are no walls or windows either to diminish or distract from the grouping, or
to suggest a defined sense of place. The characters, floating in a void that they must
themselves define, are (as in Furniss's rendition) deprived of all the icons of Sterne's
work: the map, boots, and, maybe most significantly, Toby's crutch and footstool.
Although Austen includes some identifying physical attributes (such as the
"sesquipedality" of Slop's belly), the figures are similar, with bulky, nearly interchangeable
limbs. Body language is the primary means of projecting character: Toby is contentedly
engaged in the sermon as expressed by his patiently, perhaps piously folded hands, in
contrast to Walter's more aggressive posture, gesturing toward Trim with his pipe, and
Slop, slightly oblivious, verges on caricature, stolid, obese, and motionless. As in
Furniss's version, the bareness of the scene prevents it from alluding to different narrative
aspects of the story (such as Toby's wound and the problems caused by a clock) and
focuses the viewer's attention solely on the frozen moment in time. Austen's stark
rendition deprives the reader of extraneous embellishment and naturalistic rendering,
producing instead an emphasis on the theatrical aspects of the sermon's recitation as a
carefully designed tableau.
In his introduction to this edition, J. B. Priestley remarks at length on Austen's
artwork, noting that "there is a vague suggestion of marionettes about these figures," 15
which in turn suggests the artful manipulation of the characters by the author; this perhaps
is best expressed in Sterne's text by the narrator's attempts to get Toby and Walter up the
stairs. More obviously, the figures in Austen's drawings suggest the comparison with
marionettes in their highly stylized forms and contrived positioning. Priestley's comment
about the puppet-like quality of the figures might be viewed as reflecting a tendency to
condemn eighteenth-century characters as less realistic in comparison to those in
nineteenth-century fictions; we see this contrast, of course, though the eyes of Henry
James, who states that the "air of reality (solidity of specification) seems to me to be the
supreme virtue of a novel." 16 But perhaps Priestley is instead calling attention to the fact
that Sterne's characters have as much to do with service as vehicles for the author's
intentions (as in emblems and allegorical writing more generally), than with the realism of
novelists like James or Flaubert.
Nonetheless Priestley finds a particular contemporary relevance in Sterne ("If the
modern novel can be said to have had a father . . . then that father is Sterne" 17 ), which is,
in turn, shown in Austen's treatment of Sterne's text: "Fifty years ago he would have done
very different drawings, would not have chosen these particular moments for
illustration." 18 Priestley finds a parallel between the work of fiction writers of his time and
Austen's visual interpretation of Sterne: a pervasive quality of exasperation. "It is perhaps
the prevailing mood of the post-War intellectuals, and few of us are untouched by it," he
observes; "You can discover it peeping out all over the place in Mr. Austen's drawings.'
Priestley notes instances of exasperation in Sterne's text, and in Austen's illustration of
"Trim reading the sermon," we might see this quality in the seeming tension between
Walter and Trim, and, more theoretically, in its spare style. In addition, Priestley
anticipates this present study by emphasizing the interpretive value of book illustrations,
asserting that Austen's drawings, "since they are more than idle pieces of decoration, tell
us a great deal."
Although he departs from more traditional styles, Austen closely adheres to Sterne's
text, depicting Trim as he "held the sermon loosely,— not carelessly, in his left hand,
raised above his stomach, and detach' d a little from his breast;— his right arm falling
negligently by his side, as nature and the laws of gravity order' d it,— but with the palm of
it open and turned toward his audience, ready to aid the sentiment, in case it stood in
need" (IS 1. 17. 142). The moment illustrated by Austen could be one of many in the
course of Trim's reading, but his careful attention to Sterne's description of the
characters, whatever interpretation might be drawn from his style of drawing, results in
depictions that remain faithful to the literal text they illustrate, and hence make us more
willing, perhaps, to accept their figurative accuracy as well.
Returning to a more traditional style of rendering, T. M. Cleland's 1935 illustration of
"Trim reading the sermon" [see fig. 3-5] is attentive to many specific details included in
Sterne's text. Cleland's vertical black-and-white line drawing, supplemented by shades of
sepia, recalls Hogarth's version in his rendering of character and setting, but has shifted
the perspective, so that the illustration more actively incorporates the viewer within the
scene rather than spying on the orator from behind. Light from an unseen window
dramatically streams over the middle third of the picture, illuminating the carefully posed
Trim as if he were in a spotlight, while Walter, off to the side, sits in the shade (perhaps a
sign of the victory of Trim's natural, unstudied, and unsystematic approach over Walter's
persistent systematization). The seeming inclusion of the viewer in the picture arguably
functions as Sterne's text does, by opening a window into the private, idiosyncratic world
of the Shandys.
As opposed to Austen's more stylized artwork, Cleland makes extensive use of
naturalistic detail: there is a considerable attention to the design of the furniture, the
draping of fabrics, and the variable shadings of surfaces, as well as a precise rendition of
small objects. This style of detailed rendering also enhances the expression of the
characters themselves: we can see in their well-rendered faces Trim's sincerity, Slop's
peevishness, Toby's entrancement, and a hint of Walter's peevishness. The attention to
detail in Cleland's version of the scene also helps to highlight the abundant presence of
icons that bind the image to the text. A hat and walking stick lie on the floor near Trim's
feet, the latter to be used with an extravagant flourish later in the story. A book,
presumably the copy of Stevinus, lies open on a table. Toby grasps his crutch firmly in
one hand, and holds a long-stemmed pipe — perhaps an allusion to Hogarth.
This detail greatly contributes to the strength of historical veracity in Cleland's
depiction. His variable costuming of the characters (in contrast to Austen's dressing them
similarly) bears a close resemblance to Hogarth's drawing and further fleshes out the
personae of the characters themselves. The specific objects included in the comfortably
cluttered room reveal Cleland's careful attention to historical accuracy, from the carpet-
covered wood floor and various pieces of furniture to the cow-shaped creamers in the
background. While Cleland probably could not have known this, the room actually
resembles the low-ceilinged, beamed parlor of Shandy Hall more than any previous
illustration, including Hogarth's, even down to the positioning of the window. 21
Cleland's artwork can be seen as suggesting a rediscovery of the value of the historical
Sterne, minimally distorted by the age; and as reconsidering, perhaps, the modernity that
Sterne was hailed for only ten years before, not only by Priestley, but also by Virginia
Woolf and others. Cleland's adherence to the textual basis of the scene might signify the
beginning of a willingness, after more than a century of distortion and exaggeration about
Sterne and his work, to accept and value both on their own terms, not as paradigms of
indecency, false sentiment — or even modernity. In some ways, then, Austen seems to
echo the sentiments suggested by Wilbur L. Cross in the Preface to his 1925 revision of
Sterne's biography: "Nowhere have I intended to spare Sterne nor to idealize him."
The visual interpretation of "Trim reading the sermon" would take a different turn in
the hands of Brian Robb, who provided two different view of the scene for the 1949
Macdonald's Classics Illustrated edition: one, Trim reading the sermon, posed precisely;
and the second, fourteen pages later, a depiction of the dramatic reader and his audience
as the text describes Trim nearing the end of his oration. Like Austen's, Robb's drawings
have no containing frames and his figures are more stylized than naturalistic; Robb's
approach, however, favors informal but artful scribbles instead of the bold, highly stylized
curves of Austen, and the result is closer to caricature than abstraction.
Robb's first rendering is of Trim alone, mouth open, chest comically puffed out,
absorbed in his reading of the sermon [see fig. 3-6]. A vertical line drawn in front of his
body is nearly perpendicular to one on the floor; an arc connecting the two spans over the
number "85'/2°" proclaims Trim's exact stance, an obvious reference to Sterne's
hyperbolic description. However, while Trim's position is conspicuously advertised and
his feet are placed in accordance with the passage, his right hand, instead of being "open
and turned towards his audience," clutches a walking stick, perhaps an allusion to Trim's
use of one later in Tristram Shandv to vaguely define "whilst a man is free — " (IS
IX.4.743). The figure — perhaps a bit bulkier than Sterne's idea of the character — is
dressed in the suggestion of period costume, including a neck ruffle and breaches. Trim's
face is sketched vaguely but comically, forming an ironic contrast with the precision of the
The group scene of the reading [see fig. 3-7] is spread panoramically across a small
unframed rectangular space, featuring Trim on the far right, who, in response to a
particularly dramatic moment, gestures grandly with his right hand. (The text directly
below the illustration describes the Corporal's animation: "Here Trim kept waving his
right-hand from the sermon to the extent of his arm." 23 ) The three seated characters
portray distinct attitudes: Walter listens, hand on his knees, spherical Slop slouches and
sulks, and Toby, puffing on his pipe, assumes an air of leisurely contemplation. In contrast
to the care Robb takes in defining character, he neither depicts the varied icons displayed
prominently in Hogarth and Cleland (and that are also mentioned in the text), nor does he
suggest any idea of background in either illustration. With its seemingly loose and roughly
defined style of caricature, Robb's artwork presents itself as unconventional and highly
individualistic, while still being referential, qualities which proclaim, perhaps, a
philosophical kinship with Sterne.
In the Introduction to the edition illustrated by Robb, John Cowper Powys identifies a
similar quality in Sterne, suggesting that "deep in the most intimate fibre of the author's
identity there stirs a wanton and wilful revolt against all the recognized rules usually
observed in the writing of any kind of fiction." 24 Judging from Robb's loosely sketched
figures and capacity for improvisation — for instance, he introduces two unexplained
characters (a harlequin and a clown with the head of an ass, after Bottom) who dance
through the pages of the heavily illustrated edition — the artist could well be as guilty of
the "orgiastic cerebralism" 25 of which Powys playfully accuses Sterne. Powys confesses
to "being left completely unmoved" by the deaths of Le Fever and Yorick, as well as by
the scene of Maria, a result, he feels, of "the exaggerated artfulness" of the situation rather
than a reaction to " the situation itself " 26 Sentiment does not seem to have had the value
in 1949 that it held twenty years before, and Robb's depiction of the sermon-reading
heightens instead the comic aspects of the scene. Perhaps Powys wistfully looks for
something else in Sterne's humor, however, something as difficult to define as "a few stray
feathers and a wisp of thistledown" (a quality reminiscent of Robb's drawings): that is,
something "to keep us in heart ... as we hope against hope for a kindlier world " While
Robb's artwork is unconventional, it expresses a cautious optimism that complements the
meaning Powys underlines.
The depiction of Trim reading the sermon by John Lawrence in 1970 follows Robb's
pattern of highlighting the speaker in one picture while depicting a broader idea of the
scene in another. In the first, Lawrence portrays Trim in profile [see fig. 3-8], a faithful
projection of the text: his body is angled and hands and feet positioned as Sterne describes
the character, and a hat lies at his feet; the sermon itself seems too large in proportion to
the figure. As in the Robb version, there are no identifying characteristics of Trim's
surroundings, of a room or listeners, and Lawrence's rendition is nearly devoid of humor;
here, Trim reading the text is a personal experience — he is focused on the text, not on his
audience — like the reader's own interaction with the book itself.
The companion picture, a distinct contrast to the stark clarity of the single figure,
depicts the closely-cropped, seated forms of Toby and Slop emerging from a jumble of
lines and curves within a dark rectangle [see fig. 3-9]. The top part of the frame is
overwhelmed with sinuous billows of smoke which escape from Toby's mouth while he
looks on with benevolent complacency, almost inviting the viewer into the scene. Slop
stares away, his fists clenched and face set in consternation. Lawrence seems to indicate a
contrast between Toby's dreamy expression (perhaps a function of the smoke) and Slop's
angry response to the reading of the sermon. The close proximity of the figures to the
viewer and the unique, downwards-facing perspective suggests that Lawrence framed the
scene from Trim's own point of view.
The primitive and angular appearance of Lawrence's rough-hewn woodcuts conveys a
paradoxical feeling of being simultaneously "antique" and modern; their monotonal
minimalism and sharp-edged forms seem to refer to Austen's illustrations, while denying
the comic potential of the text. The white wedges that convey shading, a product of the
medium, create a roughness and a visual tension on many of the surfaces in the illustration.
Lawrence's predominantly dark and somewhat ambiguous artwork suggests a gloomier
side of Sterne, perhaps hinting at the memento mod that hovers over even the work's
Lawrence's dual vision of the scene juxtaposes the starkly depicted Trim, seemingly
deeply and passionately engaged in delivering his literally obscure text to a barren room
(save for a vague black mass, perhaps a shadow), with the busy, disorderly rectangle from
which the partial figures emerge, barely discernible from the background images of the
scene. These images perhaps suggest the idea of an absurd world, a place where a public
address is turned back reflexively on the speaker (a tendency of Tristram's narration, as
well) and the audience is separate and irrelevant. In 1968, John Traugott finds a parallel
between Sterne's "subversion of notions of neo-classical reason and personality" and "our
own relentless and I am afraid sometimes pompous expose of absurdity in existence."
Traugott contends that modern man finds a "fellow spirit" in Sterne, someone "who
ignores nature's simple plan, with its springs and cogs, to discover fragmentary and
solipsistic life." 29 In his analysis of the contemporary relevance of Tristram Shandy ,
Traugott identifies issues that seem to pervade Lawrence's visual interpretation as well.
However individual the depictions of "Trim reading the sermon" examined thus far
have been, the last two series of illustrations in this chapter radically depart from the
previous examples in both style and content. In both cases, they are no longer book
illustrations, but are designed to carry their own significance apart from Sterne's text.
Rather than simply being innovative portrayers of Sterne's work, these artists essentially
reinvent the work in their own image, creating something very different from illustrations
to Tristram Shandy in the process.
A significant indication of the revised status of the illustrator in the late-twentieth
century is the packaging of the artwork in relation to the text itself. John Baldessari's
graphic interpretations of Sterne's work for the 1988 Arion Press edition are presented in
their own accordion-fold publication entitled John Baldessari: Photo-collages for
"Tristram Shandy" with quotations from the novel by Laurence Sterne . Even before
examining the graphics within its covers, the title of this separate portfolio alone signifies a
shift from the status of previous illustrators of the book who shared the billing with
Sterne; Baldessari's illustrations, as we will see, will provide additional evidence of this
new arrangement. The Arion Press describes its edition of Tristram Shandy as having
"three volumes" slipcased together: Sterne's work (derived from the text of the Florida
Edition), Baldessari's 39 double-page photo-collages, and an "essay on the author and the
novel" by Melvyn New. In addition, Arion Press marketed separately "five large-scale
original lithographic prints by John Baldessari of photo-collages conceived for the Sterne
project," placing further emphasis not only on the visual over the verbal elements of the
project, but on Baldessari as the raison d'etre of the production rather than Sterne.
Although illustrators in the late-eighteenth century had produced suites of illustrations
independent of Steme's printed text as well— usually of A Sentimental Journey—
Baldessari's production represents an entirely different approach toward the printed word.
Before this project, Baldessari had gained critical notice for his photo-collages, and the
illustrations here are in the style of his other artwork, incorporating "found" black-and-
white movie stills and bold graphic inserts. Baldessari's rendition of the sermon-reading
scene obviously departs from previous treatments of the scene — and from most previous
book illustration in general— by not attempting anything like a literal representation; the
characters, setting, and details evident in both the story and prior graphic renditions are
nowhere to be found. Like Robb and Lawrence, Baldessari employs two images to depict
the sermon-reading scene, although they might be considered as a single complex, double-
page rendition, as well. Both of the images feature a photograph of a single figure. The
first, on the right side of the spread [see fig. 3-10], seems to be a martial artist frozen in a
mid-air maneuver, his clenched right hand and foot thrust aggressively forward, toward a
target, the left arm and leg folded behind. The background is a blur, emphasizing the
single character whose identity is completely obscured by a yellow disk — an signature
element that occurs in Baldessari's previous artwork. The included text, Sterne's
comically meticulous portrait of Trim's position ("But before the Corporal begins, I must
first give you a description ... His attitude was as unlike all this as you can conceive" [TS
11.17. 140. 7-15]) suggests that in his illustration, the artist is echoing Sterne by offering his
own commentary on the positioning of the human figure.
The second image [see fig. 3-1 1] also portrays a male figure caught in mid-action.
The figure on the left is a study of contrasts with the first: he is dressed in a dark formal
suit and hat, and has slipped and is about to land on his back. The chaotic mood is
augmented by a container of flowers falling sideways to the ground on the right. He is
flanked by arrangements of flowers on pedestals, and he faces a defined space: a wall with
decorative molding and what appears to be a large, curtained window. Dark wooden
paneling and a dark floor suggest a somber order that is cast into disarray by the toppling
central figure. The included text in this instance ("He stood, — for I repeat it, to take a
picture of him at one view, with his body sway'd, and somewhat bent forwards . . . [TS
126.96.36.199-25]) is a continuation of the above passage describing Trim's pose before he
reads the sermon, adding yet more detail about the precise position of the reader's body
and referring to Hogarth's line of beauty. The choice of subject might be seen as ironically
reflecting the passage, offering a situation of frenetic activity to contrast with Sterne's
carefully described reader of the sermon. Equally ironic, perhaps, the actual text
apparently being illustrated ("This I recommend to painters ... for unless they practise
it, — they must fall upon their noses" [TS II. 17. 141 .26-28]) is not the text provided by
In both cases, the inclusion of the text might serve as aesthetic garnish for Baldessari's
images, but they also represent a type of abridgment of Sterne's text: those unfamiliar with
Tristram Shandy might consider the text included in the illustration as the entire basis for
the artwork, while those actually familiar with Sterne's work, perhaps, will puzzle over the
selection of these passages by Baldessari. Like the disk, the inclusion of the text in the
artist's work is, as New observes, another "Baldessari signature," 31 which can be traced in
his earlier work.
The blocks of text from the sermon-reading passage in Tristram Shandy featured here
are not captions, but fundamental parts of the illustrations. The first is 92 words and the
second 155 words in length, set in neat, justified blocks of Univers typeface; presumably
the content of the text relates to the illustrations of which it is a part, but its choice of
design implies that these groupings of words are themselves meant to have some aesthetic
significance independent of their literal meaning, perhaps simply as another graphic
element in the composition. Baldessari's choice of an ostentatiously modern sans-serif
font represents a conspicuous distancing from the eighteenth-century Caslon face in which
the Arion Press set the full text of Tristram Shandy . The aestheticization of the text — and,
by implication, the re-orientation of its meaning — is further stressed by the chiasmus
formed by the two facing plates, with the blocks of text and images symmetrically
paired — a sense of order, one feels, Sterne would have found baffling as a portrayal of his
In both of Baldessari's depictions of the scene, there seems to be a focus on the
generic idea of the pose and its control (the line of science) and possible vulnerability (falls
on his nose); the genericism in the first illustration is emphasized by the anonymity created
by the disk fixed on the leaping figure, and in the second by the fact that we only see the
back of the figure. Perhaps most conspicuously, these photo-collages appear to address
the positioning of the human body: both the figures are depicted in motion, one
disciplined, the other haphazard. The motion in both cases is presumably brief; both
figures will end up on the ground in seconds. This perhaps implies an allusion — as in the
cited excerpts — on the frozen moments in Sterne's text as a whole, when the narrator
suspends time and carefully examines his subject in a way that would otherwise be
impossible. This observation of the fleeting nature of time finds many parallels in Sterne,
of course, from Walter's inability to keep up with his son's growth when composing the
Tristra-poedia to Tristram's awareness of his own encroaching mortality.
Baldessari's photo-collage for the sermon-reading scene inevitably presents itself as a
highly individual interpretation of the text, creating loose thematic resemblances to the
narrative rather than literal ones. Considering all of Baldessari's artwork for the edition,
Ellam suggests this, that the illustrations are thematically associated with the text: the
artist "eschews Tristram's narrative, in that each passage illustrated is exploited for the
semantic content it contains in itself, and sometimes in relation to symbols used in the
novel." 32 New notes, on the other hand, that the contrasts between the images in
Baldessari's illustration for the scene — flying versus falling, discipline and control versus
chance 33 — opens the door to the observation of a series of visual contrasts: light versus
dark, front versus rear, outside versus inside, informal versus more formal dress, which
may, in turn, signify the paradoxical qualities of militancy and sentimentality contained in
Toby and Trim. In a broader sense, then, we might also be viewing a symbolic
representation of the varied contrasts in Tristram Shandy : spontaneous grace versus
contrived elegance, book learning versus experience, Walter's head versus Toby's heart,
Protestant versus Catholic, and man's desire versus his finite nature, to name but a few.
Given the heavy emphasis on positioning in his depiction and his inclusion of the
allusion to Hogarth in Sterne's text, the artist may have had Hogarth in mind as well as
Sterne, but rather than paying conspicuous homage to either, Baldessari distinctly and
deliberately breaks the connection with both and instead emphasizes his own vision over
theirs — perhaps demonstrated best in his appropriation of the text to fit his visual needs.
The artist has commented that his intention was "not to illustrate Tristram , but to
complement it." 34 Noting the "transparency" of Hogarth's rendition — the ability "to see
the text through the image," which unites author and reader — New suggests that "access
to the text is blocked rather than facilitated" in Baldessari' s "intensely authoritarian"
Although some positive elements of "transparency" might be found in Baldessari's
work — the use of human figures as opposed to completely abstract forms, the focus on
position which alludes to the textual emphasis, even an attentiveness implied by inclusion
of the text (which New views as an act of "usurpation" 36 ) — overall, Baldessari's artwork
supplants both Sterne's text and most ideas of book illustration, defying the criteria
suggested by Mitchell for the evaluation of visual representations; the "pictured objects,"
"setting, compositional arrangement, and color scheme" in the illustrations are at best
connotative of Tristram Shandy , and suggest only coded connections with the text.
In the last part of the twentieth century, Tristram Shandy gained critical recognition as
a type of experimental fiction that happened to be inconveniently situated in history. Larry
McCaffery's feeling that "it is a commonplace to note that Tristram Shandy is a
thoroughly postmodern work in every respect but the period in which it is written"
reflected widespread critical opinion in the 1980s and 1990s as Sterne's work was hailed
for its apparently prescient qualities of meta-narrative and indeterminateness. Some
criticism in this period, like Baldessari's artwork, seemed to attempt to derive meaning
from Sterne's text by actively working against its intent: as I observe in Chapter 4, Robert
Markley, for instance, suggests that Sterne's sentimentality in A Sentimental Journey is
anything but benevolent, but rather a manifestation of ideological exploitation. Similarly,
Markley's essay on J. Hillis Miller's "deconstruction" of Tristram Shandy . 38 like
Baldessari's project, demonstrates an interest not in Sterne's text, but in an abstracted
ideology applied to it.
Perhaps the best example of the tendency to abstract Tristram Shandy into something
else entirely is the comic-book adaptation of Tristram Shandy by Martin Rowson. The
comic-book form shifts the relationship between the graphics and text, and the heavily
interpretative process of Rowson himself (who is listed as the book's author) makes his
depictions something very different from a book illustration in the usual sense. At the
same time, Rowson' s depiction of the sermon-reading scene shows a certain attentiveness
to both Sterne and Hogarth that implies a consciousness of both the text and the tradition
behind his work.
The very definition of Rowson' s illustration of the scene is problematic: it actually
extends over six frames (three of which are included here), and illustrates the sequence
immediately preceding the sermon, as well — Toby's invocation of Stevinus, Trim's
retrieval of the volume, and the discovery of the sermon in its pages. The dialogue
included within the borders of the frames is all the text the reader is offered (and some text
is Rowson's, not Sterne's); the description of Trim, therefore, is only represented in
Rowson's visual portrayal [see fig. 3-12]. Rowson's prominent allusion to Hogarth's
illustration is the overlaying of a draftsman's grid on the figure of Trim, illustrating
Sterne's description of Trim's pose by labeling the angle of his back. (Perhaps Rowson
was familiar with Robb's rendition as well, which also pictures the labeled 85'/2° angle.)
Beyond the allusion, however, the artwork moves toward parody of the parody when it
labels, with equal precision, the angles created by both Trim's feet and the bottom of his
Rowson's illustrations of Slop and Trim seem to be caricatures of Hogarth's
caricatures: Slop is even more round, and Trim is portrayed as elegantly posed but
grotesque, with a long, thin nose, enormous jaw, and peg-like teeth. The two Shandy
brothers are clearly distinguishable from one another (other illustrators have shown a
tendency to conflate the two), although they share an identical expression of benevolent
contentment during the reading of the sermon. Walter is depicted as heavy with a wide,
pear-shaped face and short wig, while Toby is drawn as thin and oval-faced, wearing an
elaborate double-peaked wig, and without any of his icons. Other artists, visually
projecting Sterne's characterizations, have tended to depict Walter as angular and sharp-
edged, and Toby as rounder and heavier. Rowson is significantly (and perhaps
consciously) different from his predecessors in this respect, and perhaps creates in his
rendition of the Shandys a symbol of the contrary nature of his "system" of viewing
While Rowson is attentive to Sterne's description of the scene in the placement and
attitudes of the characters of Trim, Toby, Walter, and Slop, the artist is interested in
moving beyond Sterne's text and asserting his own vision of Tristram Shandv . In an essay
about his work, Rowson states that he had considered actually illustrating Tristram
Shandv . but "couldn't, some centuries after Hogarth, quite see the point"; he claims
benignly that "he came to enhance Sterne, not mock him." 39 Rowson' s "enhancement,"
however, is ultimately more a play on Sterne rather than an illustration of Tristram
Shandy , the creation of an entirely different work that has elements in common with the
original; perhaps, however, this is always the case of critical commentary, which is, in fact,
the genre to which Rowson' s comic book might belong. Put another way, Rowson is not
so much illustrating Sterne, as he is the critical tradition that has flowed down the "gutter
of Time" with it.
Nowhere is this more evident than on the other side of the same panel, which includes
dialogue between the artist's self-portrait and his "(fictional, talking) dog Pete"; 4 like
some readers before him, Pete wants to bolt from the sermon-reading and find a shortcut
to another part of the story. In a sense, the introduction of the conspicuously (and
comically) self-referential characters of Rowson and his dog (who seems to represent
Rowson' s alter-ego) creates a greater disparity with Sterne's text than Baldessari's
interpretations; but, we might suggest, that Rowson is at least frank and self-mocking in
his departure. If Rowson is seeking to remake Tristram Shandy in his own image, at least
he adopts something of the self-conscious whimsy of a Shandean tone in doing so. He
replaces Sterne's self-conscious narrator with himself, a logical progression, one might
suggest; he makes the parallel more distinct with the Tristram-ical caprices in which he
indulges as he relates his version of Tristram Shandy .
All of the frames in Rowson's version of the scene appear to be cramped and small,
and the characters in their chairs are depicted against a dark, featureless background. The
careful ordering of space (probably inherent, in part, to the comic-book form) to an extent
parallels the contemporary critical interest in the significance of spatial definition in
Tristram Shandy . In a recent discussion, Christopher Fanning, for instance, maintains that
the definition of the spaces in the parlor and the bedroom upstairs "correlates with the
separate spheres of male and female activity that are themselves figures for satiric
distinctions between theory and practice." 41 Rowson's depiction of himself in the sermon
reading reveals, perhaps, his identification with the masculine company in the Shandy
parlor — a distinction borne out, perhaps, by Rowson's idiosyncratic volume.
In addition to offering visual parallels to contemporaneous critical perspectives, these
eight renditions of "Trim reading the sermon" can be seen as reflective of different types
of textual commentary when considered in the context of Paul Ricoeur's readings of W.
Dilthey, in which he identifies "two fundamental attitudes which may be adopted in regard
to a text": 42 "explanation" and "interpretation." The explanatory attitude, according to
Ricoeur, is a cooperative approach to a work which serves to "prolong and reinforce the
suspense which affects the text's reference to a surrounding world," while the
interpretative stance takes the act of reading a step further, and serves to "lift the suspense
and fulfil the text." 43
The renditions of the scene discussed here reflect these two different approaches to
"reading" Sterne's text. The earlier illustrators, Furniss, Wheelwright, Austen, and
Cleland, provide explanatory readings of the scene by portraying elements already present
in Sterne's text (comedy, sentiment, or, in the cases of Austen and Cleland, a little of
each). They present little, if anything, beyond the parameters of the text. Even Austen's
more radical (by contemporary standards) stylization and elimination of background does
little to detract from the directness of his rendering as a straightforward projection of
Austen, however, subtly deviates from the explanatory attitude: his enigmatic style
does not represent a comic, sentimental, or even merely a blandly expository attitude, but
instead suggests a darker tension and angst that does not seem to directly relate to the
text. The illustrations by Robb and Lawrence might also been seen as explanatory
approaches which "prolong and reinforce the text's reference to the surrounding world";
in fact, in their shared method of dual depiction of the scene, they emphasize Sterne's
dichotomy between speaker and audience, which is in itself a commentary on the
relationship between author and reader. However, like Austen's, they are transitional,
also hinting at interpretative inclinations. While Robb's style of caricature might be seen
as a representation of Sterne's own verbal sketching, the occasional, but unexplained,
appearance in the book's illustrations of two whimsical characters — a donkey-headed harp
player and a clown [see fig. 3-13] — suggest a desire to do more than simply illustrate
While the illustrations of Austen, Robb, and Lawrence might be seen as incorporating
both modes of "reading," the renditions of Baldessari and Rowson are more clearly
interpretative; each, in his own way, acts to "lift the suspense and fulfil the text." In
contrast to his inclusion of a segment of Sterne's text in his artwork (which, in a sense, has
the function of its denial as a verbal entity), Baldessari is less interested in representing the
scene than presenting his cleverness with its interpretation, which awaits the adulation of
the artist's admirers. Although Rowson's rendition resembles earlier illustrations of the
scene in some respects, his act of self-inclusion in the frame reflects his act of
interpretation; he usurps Tristram's narrative voice and substitutes his own.
The array of explanatory and interpretative attitudes toward Sterne's text expressed in
these illustrations of "Trim reading the sermon" might be seen as an analogue to the recent
history of literary criticism. From the end of the nineteenth to the early-twentieth
centuries, critical strategy focused primarily on textual investigation, culminating in the
careful analyses of the New Critical movement of the mid-twentieth century. This critical
approach would be considered explanatory using Ricoeur's standard, since it emphasizes
the elements inherent in the literary work. The artwork of Furniss, Wheelwright, and
Cleland parallel this critical approach by representing the comic, sentimental, or, perhaps,
"realistic" aspects of Sterne's texts. Even Austen's more abstract rendition projects the
essence of the sermon-reading scene, although its visual style might be seen as an analogue
to modernist interests in minimalism and structuralism, stressing form and movement over
detail in his composition.
The portrayals of the scene by Robb and Laurence also project the essential elements
of the scene, but their deviation from an explanatory attitude is suggested by Robb's
addition of non-Sternean characters and Lawrence's style. Criticism in this period (1948
to 1970) is likewise marked by the introduction of factors external to the text — myth,
phenomenology, and reader response, to name a few — to the discussion of literary works.
As with the artwork of Robb and Austen, critics frequently applied external analogues or
philosophies in their readings, suggesting at least an inclination toward interpretative
By 1988— -the date of Baldessari's artwork — criticism increasingly had utilized more
rigorous philosophical and ideological approaches which, sometimes quite deliberately,
created a schism between the commentary and the text itself. The anti-referentiality of
Baldessari's artwork finds a parallel in highly interpretative critical perspectives utilizing
political, gendered, and anti-textual stances that were often more interested in the
projection of the individual critic than in the elucidation of the text. The conspicuous self-
insertion of the critic into textual analysis is represented by Rowson's inclusion of himself
as a character in the sermon-reading scene as well as the artist-first illustrations of
As a result, the sermon itself— the central element of the scene, the text within the text
that is the subject of mock-critical discussion in the Shandy parlor— assumes a larger role;
it is not only the "Abuses of Conscience" (a title which itself could relate to this critical
history), but a universal symbol of the Literary Text as it becomes the focus of a wide
variety of opinions over time, just as the illustrations of the scene between 1883 and 1995
seem to change perspectives to match contemporary critical commentary. Through the
visual portrayals of this universalized Literary Text, we see the sermon — held by Trim
"loosely, — not carelessly" (TS II. 17. 142. 1-2) — demonstrate the dogged persistence of the
word itself, the battered logos , which, in spite of the shifting winds of opinion, remains
central to literary criticism.
1. Letters of Laurence Sterne , ed. Lewis Perry Curtis (1935; Oxford: Clarendon,
1965), 99. Hereafter Letters .
2. W. J. T. Mitchell, Iconoloev: Image. Text. Ideology (1986; Chicago and London:
U. of Chicago Press, 1987), 41.
3. Mitchell 41.
4. In the absence of information indicating its origin, the possibility exists that either
Sterne, or his publisher Dodsley, requested the second illustration, "The Christening of
Tristram," from the artist. Hogarth's rendition of the scene originally appeared in the first
edition of Volume Three in 1761. Melvyn New, noting that "both illustrations are of
sacramental moments," comments that he "would like to believe Sterne directed Hogarth
to the scene as was the case a year earlier" ("William Hogarth and John Baldessari:
Ornamenting Tristram Shandv ." Word & Image 1 1 :2 : 186). Certainly after being
so enthusiastic and specific in his first request for the first illustration, it is difficult to
believe Sterne would have been ambivalent about providing prompts for the second.
5. New 192. Hogarth's rendition is particularly attentive to the details in Sterne's
text. The clock in the illustration, while probably an allusion to Tristram's conception
(and, perhaps, the focus on time in the book), clearly is not, as New points out (183), the
"large house-clock which we had standing upon the back-stairs head" ( The Life and
Opinions of Tristram Shandv. Gentleman , ed. Melvyn New and Joan New [Gainesville,
FL: U. Press of Florida, 1978], 1.4.6) which triggers Mrs. Shandy's infamous inquiry
New identifies the festoon as "the only object not originating in the text" (183). While
it may have merely been a decorative embellishment on Hogarth's part, the festoon (or
swag) may have symbolic significance. Swag is defined in the OED as "a wreath or
festoon of flowers, foliage, or fruit fastened up at both ends and hanging down in the
middle, used as an ornament." The definition of festoon is "a chain or garland of flowers,
leaves, etc., suspended in a curved form between two points"; noting its derivation from
festa . the entry relates that "the etymological sense would thus be 'decoration for a
feast.'" It is worthwhile observing that festoons (or swags) appear only rarely in
Hogarth's works, and then only as an architectural (as opposed to a decorative) device.
The definitions suggest several explanations for the festoon. Its inclusion might relate
to an as-yet-unidentified custom connected to celebrating the birth of a child. (A parallel
to this is Walter's later observation, on the death of Bobby, that "the Thracians wept when
a child was born . . . and feasted and made merry when a man went out of the world" [TS
V.3.424], implying from contrary example that births may have been celebrated in some
fashion.) Although less related to the text, the festoon may also be connected to a recent
harvest festival — or the idea of a birth as a harvest.
6. Some late-eighteenth-century editions of Tristram Shandy that include original art
(such as London: Strahan, 1780) reprint Hogarth's two illustrations as well; many feature
the Hogarth sermon-reading scene as the only illustration (such as Dublin: Henry
Saunders, 1761, London: n.p., 1783 and 1790, and London: H. Symonds, 1793).
Significantly, no book illustrator appears to have attempted to compete with Hogarth by
illustrating the sermon-reading scene until Harry Furniss in 1883.
7. Significantly, according to Thackeray's lectures, Hogarth was held in high esteem
during the Victorian era, most likely because his great "novelistic" series of prints, such as
Marriage a la Mode and The Harlot's Progress , can easily be interpreted as having a
strong moral message. Regarding his depiction of morally questionable characters,
William Makepeace Thackeray points out "a glimpse of pity for his rogues never seems to
enter honest Hogarth's mind" ("Hogarth, Smollett, and Fielding" in The English
Humourists of the Eighteenth Century [London: Smith, Elder, 1853], 222). To
Thackeray, Hogarth also has appeal as a recorder of the past: "To a student of history,
these admirable works must be invaluable, as they give us the most complete and truthful
picture of the manners, and even the thoughts, of the past century" (228). Although
Hogarth depicts acts of lewdness (and certainly a taste for this material existed among the
Victorians), Thackeray sees the artist (in contrast to Sterne) as properly condemning
8. Michael Fried. Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of
Diderot (Berkeley and Los Angeles: U. of California Press, 1980), 10.
9. Leslie Stephen, Hours in a Library (1892; New York: Johnson Reprint, 1968),
10. Charles Whibley, Studies in Frankness (1898; London: Kennikat, 1970), 92.
11. Whitwell Elwin, "Sterne" in Some XVIII Century Men of Letters , ed. Warwick
El win (London: John Murray, 1902), 2:56.
12. Andrew Ellam. From Sterne to Baldessari: The Illustration of "Tristram Shandv ."
1760-1996 . July 14, 2001 <http://www.aellam.net/ts/index.html>, par. 21.
13. E. A. Baker, "Sterne" in The History of the English Novel (1929; New York:
Barnes and Noble, 1950), 7:250.
14. Baker 258, 260.
15. J. B. Priestley, Introduction in The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandv.
Gentleman (New York: Dodd, Mead; London: John Lane, 1928), v.
16. Henry James, "The Art of Fiction" in The Art of Criticism , ed. William Veeder
and Susan M. Griffin (Chicago and London: U. of Chicago Press, 1986), 173.
17. Priestley vi.
18. Priestley v.
19. Priestley viii.
20. Priestley v.
21 . It is uncertain whether Austen would have been able to visit Shandy Hall in
Coxwold, North Yorkshire, in the early-twentieth century, or in what condition he would
have found it. At that time, it was a probably a home for farm laborers and in an advanced
state of disrepair. Arthur H. Cash comments that when he first saw the structure in 1965
"it stood forlornly empty, its medieval timbers weakened by dry rot and death-watch
beetle, its garden a jungle" ( Laurence Sterne and Shandy Hall [Coxwold, UK: Laurence
Sterne Trust, 1990], 13).
22. Wilbur L. Cross, Preface in The Life and Times of Laurence Sterne (1909; New
Haven, CT: YaleU. Press, 1925), l:x.
23. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandv. Gentleman (London: Macdonald,
1949), 159; for the text in the Florida Edition, see II.7.160.
24. John Cowper Powys, Introduction in The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandv.
Gentleman (London: Macdonald, 1949), 7.
25. Powys 11.
26. Powys 27.
27. Powys 32.
28. John Traugott, "Sternean Realities: Excerpts from Seminars Chaired by John
Traugott: 'New Directions in Sterne Criticism' and Gardner D. Stout, Jr.: 'Sterne and
Swift'" in The Winged Skull: Papers from the Laurence Sterne Bicentenary Conference ,
ed. Arthur H. Cash and John M. Stedmond (Kent, OH: Kent State U. Press, 1971), 76.
29. Traugott 77.
30. "Announcing Tristram Shandy from the Arion Press" (San Francisco: Arion Press,
n.d. [c. 1988]): n.p..
31. New 183.
32. Ellam par. 37.
33. New 185.
34. Quoted by Gerrit Henry in "John Baldessari, Gentleman," The Print Collector's
Newsletter 20 (1989): 51.
35. New 192.
36. New 192.
37. Larry McCaffery, Introduction in Postmodern Fiction: A Bio-Bibliographical
Guide . Movements in the Arts 2 (New York: Greenwood, 1986), xv.
38. See Robert Markley, "Tristram Shandy and 'Narrative Middles': Hillis Miller and
the Style of Deconstructive Criticism" in Deconstruction at Yale , ed. Robert Con Davis
and Ronald Schleifer (Norman, OK: U. of Oklahoma Press, 1985), 179-90.
39. Martin Rowson, "Hyperboling Gravity's Ravelin: A Comic Book Version of
Tristram Shandv ." Shandean 7 (1995): 64, 66.
40. Rowson 69.
41. Christopher Fanning, "On Sterne's Page: Spatial Layout, Spatial Form, and Social
Spaces in Tristram Shandv ." Eighteenth-Century Fiction 10:4 (1998): 430. See also
Chapter 2, Part 2, 107-08.
42. Mitchell 44.
42. Paul Ricoeur, "What is a Text?" in Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences , ed.
and trans. John B. Thompson (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge U. Press; Paris:
Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l'Homme, 1981), 158. Although Ricoeur
summarizes Dilthey's points in order to dispute their oppositional relationship — an act of
interpretative reading in itself— I will consider the two categories distinct for the purpose
of my discussion.
43. Ricoeur 158.
Figure 3- 1 . Illustration by Harry Furniss for Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of
Tristram Shandy. Gentleman (London: J. C. Nimmo and Bain, 1883).
Figure 3-2. Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Un Pere de famille qui lit la Bible a ses
Infants (1755; polychrome oil on canvas).
Figure 3-3 . Illustration (polychrome) by Roland Wheelwright for Laurence Sterne, Jhe
Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy. Gentleman (London: Harap; New
York: Brentanos, 1929), 132.
Figure 3-4. Illustration by John Austen for Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of
Tristram Shandv. Gentleman (London: John Lane; New York: Dodd,
Mead, 1928), 104.
Illustration (sepia-tinted black-and-white) by T. M. Cleland
for Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram
Shandv. Gentleman (New York: Heritage Press, 1935), 80.
Figure 3-6. Illustration by Brian Robb for Laurence Sterne, The Life and
Opinions of Tristram Shandy. Gentleman (London: Macdonald,
Figure 3-7. Illustration by Brian Robb for Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of
Tristram Shandv. Gentleman (London: Macdonald, 1949), 159.
Figure 3-8. Illustration by John Lawrence for Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions
of Tristram Shandv. Gentleman (London: Folio Society, 1970), 101.
Figure 3-9. Illustration by John Lawrence for Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions
of Tristram Shandv. Gentleman (London: Folio Society, 1970), 112.
—But before the Corporal begins, I must first give you a descrip-
tion of his attitude; otherwise he will naturally stand repre-
sented, by your imagination, in an uneasy posture,— stiff, —
perpendicular,— dividing the height of his body equally upon
both legs;— his eye fix'd, as if on duty;— his look determined,—
clinching the sermon in his left hand, like his firelock:— In a
word, you would be apt to paint Trim, as if he was standing in
his platoon ready for action: His attitude was as unlike all
this as you can conceive. (II, xvii, 116)
Figure 3-10. Illustration (black-and-white with color insert) by John Baldessari for
Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy. Gentleman
(San Francisco: Arion Press, 1988), n.p..
He stood,— for I repeat it, to take the picture of him in at one
view, with his body sway'd, and somewhat bent forwards,— his
right leg firm under him, sustaining seven-eighths of his whole
weight,— the foot of his left leg, the defect of which was no dis-
advantage to his attitude, advanced a little,— not laterally, nor
forwards, but in a line betwixt them;— his knee bent, but that
not violently,— but so as to fall within the limits of the line of
beauty;— and I add, of the line of science too;— for consider, it
had one eighth part of his body to bear up;— so that in this case
the position of the leg is determined,— because the foot could be
no further advanced, or the knee more bent, than what would
allow him, mechanically, to receive an eighth part of his whole
weight under it,— and to carry it too. (II, xvii, 117)
Figure 3-11. Illustration by John Baldessari for Laurence Sterne, The Life and
Opinions of Tristram Shandy. Gentleman (San Francisco: Arion
Press, 1988), n.p..
Figure 3-12. From Martin Rowson, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy,
Gentleman (Woodstock, New York: Overlook Press, 1997), n.p. .
Figure 3-13. Illustration by Brian Robb for Laurence Sterne, The Life and
Opinions of Tristram Shandy. Gentleman (London: Macdonald,
1949), title page detail.
BENEVOLENT VISION: THE IDEOLOGY OF SENTIMENTALITY
IN CONTEMPORARY ILLUSTRATION OF
A SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY AND THE MAN OF FEELING
Among the earliest book illustrations of A Sentimental Journey is a 1780 Edward
Edwards portrayal of Yorick and Maria seated, their attention focused intently on the
sentimental symbol of the handkerchief in Yorick' s hand [see fig. 4-1]. Dense bushes and
trees dominate the background, stretching to the very edges of the picture; the radiant,
somewhat disordered appearance of the leaves and limbs evokes both a rural wildness and
a mood of transcending the mundane setting. Sylvio lies placidly at Maria's feet,
suggesting a quieting of Yorick' s animal nature in the presence of sincere melancholy.
The only hint of civilization is the rear of Yorick' s remise, partially visible in the distance,
positioned almost as if it is looking away. The figures are placed in theatrically
exaggerated poses which accentuate the drama of the moment, and they are dressed well,
though not opulently; several distinguishing elements mentioned in the text (Yorick' s
clerical garb and wig, Maria's pipe and loose hair) are absent; instead, they seem to
resemble members of the English middle class of the late-eighteenth century. Maria is
calm, reserved-looking, and quietly introspective; Yorick appears engaged, but does not
project the upheaval of "undescribable emotions" 1 described in the text. By depicting the
characters in the illustration as members of the same social and economic class as the
readers of the book, Edwards creates a connection between the fictional and the real, and
in doing so, draws attention to the sentimental benevolence implied in Sterne's text.
Contributing to the impact of this message is the quality of "absorption" identified by
Michael Fried (after Denis Diderot) in relation to late-eighteenth-century paintings: that is,
the tendency of the figures in a picture to focus on a single object, which serves to enclose
and dramatize the depicted moment. 2 Edwards's illustration demonstrates this quality
both by resting on "the supreme fiction that the beholder" does not exist and by creating
an internal "casual and instantaneous mode of unity." 3 The characters' concentrated gaze
on the handkerchief, then, not only reinforces the object's centrality as a symbol of
benevolence and fidelity, but, by promoting the quality of absorption, generates a unified,
poignant, and ultimately more instructive moment than Sterne's text by itself.
By stressing Yorick's sympathy for the attractive (but vulnerable) Maria in a remote
rural setting, Edwards portrays an exemplary moment of compassion and self-control. His
flat, almost two-dimensional illustration seems to convey meaning beyond a simple
description of character and scene, and contributes to an iconography of sentiment that
will be visually reinforced over the next thirty years by the illustrators of Laurence
Sterne's A Sentimental Journey and Henry Mackenzie's The Man of Feeling . In this
chapter, I will analyze illustrations from these works and demonstrate their tendency
toward the depiction of ethical behavior that is seemingly recommended by the texts. The
contemporary illustrations of these works provide a historically privileged perspective on
the texts that assigns a didactic role to sentimental expression; in both the written and
visual depictions, this didacticism finds its metonym in specific locations.
I want first to identify several different types of sentimental expression and, second, to
link them to the particular locations in which they occur. The close coordination between
different types of sentimental behavior and different places denoted visually by several
illustrators suggests that these scenes acted as lessons in sensibility for increasingly
urbanized and tough-minded city dwellers. The illustrations, I propose, functioned not
only as overall programs advocating the adoption of sympathetic perspectives, but also as
models recommending appropriately moral behavior in certain circumstances that were
associated with specific locations.
The notion of the "sentimental" in the works of Sterne and Mackenzie is perhaps most
fundamentally defined either as "possessing elevated and refined intellectual feeling" or
simply as possessing "sympathy." 4 This idea has more recently been recognized as
physical and verbal, as well as emotional and intellectual; John Mullan, for example,
observes that "the articulacy of sentiment is produced via a special kind of inward
attention: a concern with feeling as articulated by the body transcending the
influences of speech." 5 The projection of delicate fellow-feeling can indeed elude verbal
expression, as Mullan argues, but, as the early illustrators of A Sentimental Journey and
The Man of Feeling suggest, this projection does not end with the human body. In fact,
both the verbal and the visual texts describe locations that share in the physical definition
of sentimental moments and hence establish their own vocabulary of sentimental discourse.
The illustrations underline the fact that the place in which the body finds itself helps
determine the bodily experience of sentimental and sympathetic exchanges.
Another approach to the visualization of sentiment is put forth by Melvyn New, who
notes that "each episode [of A Sentimental Journev l suggests the value of non-verbal
communication and, at the same time, explores the failure of language in the search for
'connection.'" 6 In a sense, the dilemma of "connection" explored in Sterne's work is
dramatized by its illustrators, who reinforce the words of sentiment with a visual language
that communicates a type of non-verbal expression similar to what the written text
describes. The pictorial arsenal of the visual artist, then, becomes the means of bridging
the communicative gap between the author's words and the reader, while emphasizing a
distinctively didactic element of the text. To some degree, Mackenzie's work also shares
an exploration of the problem of "connection," although Harley seemingly experiences
less success in forging emotional bonds. The "non-verbal communication" visually
expressed in depictions of both texts stresses the need for the physical "connection"
lacking in language alone and, in doing so, suggests a benevolence based on actions, not
words. Although sentimental ideology is conveyed in the texts, it remains only a verbal
idea; when the words are imaginatively embodied in pictures, however, the vicarious
"connections" that are made more effectively suggest an ethical code. Sentimentalism was
a strong cultural force in the forty years after the publication of these works, and the
artwork that accompanies the work of Mackenzie and more especially Sterne, I contend,
echoes and enhances the didactic message of the texts.
The illustrations examined in conjunction with this argument are, with one exception,
all from editions of A Sentimental Journey and The Man of Feeling published before 1810.
I was only able to obtain two illustrated editions of The Man of Feeling for this study; my
research reveals that possibly only five were published before 1810, as opposed to at least
fourteen illustrated editions of Sterne's work in this period. Sterne was reprinted more
often than Mackenzie during this time (100 editions to 49), 8 which partially explains the
lack of illustration, but might also suggest that Sterne's emphasis on successful social
intercourse proved more inviting to visual depiction than did Mackenzie's more subdued
text. Thus the scarcity of illustrated editions of Mackenzie aids rather than impedes my
argument, supporting my assertion that visual artists recognized visual cues more
frequently in A Sentimental Journey than in The Man of Feeling.
Rather than attempt an encyclopedic listing of every instance of sympathy or fellow-
feeling in The Man of Feeling and A Sentimental Journey . I will instead focus on several
passages in each work that demonstrate climactic incidents of sentimental communion
between characters and pair them with contemporary illustrations of the passages,
illuminating aspects of the sentimental text that modern eyes frequently overlook.
Because both works express so many nuances of sentiment, it might be useful first to
group these sentimental moments by certain distinctive features, the most significant of
which turns out to be the actual location of each sentimental encounter, a particularly
useful distinction in considering their didactic effect. A breakdown of sentimentalism into
separate categories in this way is aided— and even encouraged— by the episodic structure
of the works themselves. Using the locations featured in contemporary illustrations as a
guide, I will analyze sentimentalism as it functions in social, domestic, pathetic, and erotic
spheres in A Sentimental Journey and The Man of Feeling ; a fifth type of sentiment, the
romantic, exists in the texts, but its physical location, and thus its visual depiction, is
Social sentiment is evident in Edwards's second illustration for the 1780 edition of
Works , which depicts the exchange of snuff boxes between Yorick and the monk Lorenzo,
with Madame de L*** looking on [see fig. 4-2]. Yorick' s neat, gentlemanly attire
contrasts with the monk's austere robes and sandals, but the two clerics, looking intently
into each other's face, share a moment of transcendent fellow-feeling at the very moment
the snuffboxes (resembling small bowls in Edwards's interpretation) change hands. The
emphasis on the moment of physical exchange mirrors the exchange of feelings, visible
here through bodily and facial expression. A blanket or large bag lies behind the figures,
and tufts of grass sprout near the monk's feet. Madame de L*** holds a closed fan,
suggesting a relaxed attitude and a willingness to participate in the fellow-feeling of the
moment. The surroundings hint at urban development: a large, tile-roofed, two-story
structure (presumably the hotel) rises to the left, behind the remise. In the background, a
sprawling tree is contained behind a wall, containing it outside the polite arena of the
courtyard; just as the sentiment divides the men in the picture from the ungenerous, more
confrontational parts of their natures, so the wall divides the natural world into its savage
and its benevolent aspects. The exchange between Yorick and the monk seems to stress
both their social differences (as expressed by their dress) and the public venue in which
their sentimental communion takes place. As in Edwards's depiction of Maria and Yorick,
the gestures of the figures seem exaggerated and unnaturally frozen in position, suggesting
both the stiffness and symbolic import of hieroglyphs.
The atmosphere of Yorick' s second meeting with the monk Lorenzo, the exchange of
snuffboxes, negotiated through the language of gesture as much as of speech, is perhaps
best described by the "stream of good nature in his [the monk's] eyes" (ASJ 101) as he
accepts the gift from Yorick. The exchange symbolizes the recognition of a fraternal bond
between two like-minded, and ultimately, like-named, strangers and provides an example
of fellow-feeling subsuming pride. Mullan's observation about the need for visual signals
to express sentiment is especially applicable here; with its focus on "postures and
gestures," the scene asserts his view of the potential of sensibility to be "both private and
Social sentiment, as projected in this scene, is characterized by the nearly spontaneous
fellow-feeling between strangers or near-strangers and usually takes place on a street or
road, public venues associated with random meetings. Yorick perhaps best defines social
sentiment when he asks, "are we not all relations?" (ASJ 191), asserting an implicit if
invisible interconnectedness among all mankind. This idea is repeated by Harley when he
reminds the school mistress, "let us never forget that we are all relations." 11 This type of
sentiment is also evident in the actions of the "little French debonaire captain, who came
dancing down the street" (ASJ 107) and placed himself between Yorick and the female
traveler, later identified as Madame de L***. Carrying his introduction in his demeanor
(apparently like La Fleur, who, as I note later, has "a passport in his very looks" [ASJ
149]), the minor character of the captain is never truly a stranger, nor does he allow others
to be strangers to him. He immediately establishes a social fellow-feeling with Yorick and
the lady in the public venue; and by asking " Et Madame a son Mari?" (ASJ 108), he
formally cements the bond of fellow-feeling that Yorick and Madame de L*** had
A variation of social sentiment is portrayed in the 1809 illustration by Louis Lafitte
[see fig. 4-3] which depicts Harley's discovery of old Edwards, who "lay fast asleep on the
ground" (MF 59) 12 along the public road. There is an immediate marking of character in
the attitudes of the figures: Harley's active and dynamic pose (the angle of his walking
stick suggests he has just taken a step backwards) contrasts with the inert, almost
collapsed figure of old Edwards, whose slumped position evokes sympathy from the
viewer just as it does from Harley in the text. As in the 1780 illustration of Yorick and the
monk, there is a marked contrast in costume between the dapper and elaborate dress of
Harley and the disarrayed uniform of old Edwards; even Harley' s elegant walking stick
opposes Edwards's simple staff, although, significantly, they both rest at the same angle,
hinting at an emotional alignment between the characters. Beyond the worn, but inherently
attractive, landscape— a visual projection of old Edwards's ennobling trials— lie, on the
left, several buildings, which, along with the sign post, mark the setting of Harley' s
pending benevolence as very public.
Lafitte seems to be responding to— and augmenting— a specific textual cue that
describes Harley, gazing on old Edwards "with the most earnest attention"; the text adds
that Edwards "was one of those figures which Salvator would have drawn," and goes on
to describe the picturesque setting which includes "fantastic shrub-wood" and "a rock,
with some dangling wild flowers" (ME 59). Lafitte is meticulous in his recording of this
narrative detail, down to the gibbet-like "finger-post, to mark the directions of two roads"
(ME 59). This finger-post is associated with the neat and angular Harley, while the
sprawled Edwards personifies the picturesque qualities of the blasted tree and the
crumbling ruin on which he rests. Mackenzie's reference to the painter Salvator Rosa
(1615-1673), along with his particularly visual description, in addition to being an
invitation to potential illustrators and an overt homage to the picturesque, acts as a means
of stressing the visual magnitude of the moment, increasing the reader's receptivity to
Edwards's plight. Harley' s re-acquaintance with the old soldier Edwards on a public road
is first and foremost a communion of feelings between two seemingly unacquainted
individuals who might just as easily have assumed an attitude of ambivalence, or even
animosity, toward each other. Instead, Harley's "reading" of Edwards's face ("he had that
steady look of sorrow, which indicates that its owner has gazed upon his griefs till he has
forgotten to lament them" [MF 60]), provokes his sympathetic offer and his charitable
gesture of taking Edwards's knapsack, and eventually leads to their mutual recognition. 12
The 1803 illustration of "The Passport" by William Marshall Craig [see fig. 4-4]
emphasizes the relaxed social interaction between two male strangers whose fellow-feeling
(symbolized by their common interests in Shakespeare and the opposite sex) provides the
foundation for a sentimental bond. The semi-public setting of the Count's salon is the
arena in which official business (in this case, Yorick's solicitation of help in obtaining a
passport) is not an end in itself, but rather an opportunity to meet a like-minded individual.
Comfortably seated, with one arm tossed over the back of his chair and one foot perched
on his knee, the Count de B**** looks on while the grinning Englishman, in an attempt
to relate his name, "lay'd my finger upon Yorick" (ASJ 221) in an open volume of Hamlet .
This moment parallels the earlier episode of social sentiment with the French captain in
that the establishment of the formal bond of social introduction is comically (and tellingly)
secondary to an emotional bond instantly forged by visual contact. The difference in
costume here suggests that this informal moment is being shared by members of different
classes; the Count's ruffled cuffs and medallion contrast with Yorick's plainer clothing, an
aspect more obvious in the original, hand-tinted polychrome, in which the various blues of
the Count's vest, breeches and jacket vividly oppose Yorick's somber black costume. The
layers of meaning in Craig's rendition of this scene — official, convivial, social — reiterate
the multivalent nature of the sentiment expressed in Sterne's text.
As an example of social sentiment, Yorick's meeting with the Count de B<
regarding his passport demonstrates how official business could be conducted in a
sensitive and humane— rather than a coldly efficient and emotionless— manner. The
Count de B**** listens to Yorick's story "with great good nature" (ASJ 216) and tells
him not to worry; their amiable conversation rapidly veers to their mutual interests in
literature, the opposite sex, and national characteristics and social visits. In Yorick's case,
this sympathetic means of doing business is very practical, for he obtains the passport and,
it seems, a new and intimate acquaintance in the Count.
The social sentiment depicted in these renditions suggests a transcendence of social
status through the illustration of a democratizing emotional and moral similarity among all
people. The sense of universality is poignantly illustrated by the "sons and daughters of
poverty" ( ASJ 132) in the courtyard in Montriul who politely refuse Yorick's proffered
charity, redirecting it to the neediest within their group; in doing so, they demonstrate
civility seemingly inappropriate to their status, yet credibly rendered due to the stress on
mutual fellow-feeling. Yorick comments on the anomaly, asking "for what wise reasons
hast thou order' d it, that beggary and urbanity, which are at such variance in other
countries, should find a way to be at unity in this?" (ASJ 132). Yorick's wistful inquiry to
a "just heaven" ( ASJ 132) implies a further question, however: if French beggars can
exhibit a spontaneous civility born of sentiment, then why can't all men?
Scholars of late-eighteenth-century English culture note a historical foundation
underlying the need for the public civility that social sentiment could inspire. G. J. Barker-
Benfield notes that, in the late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth century, "streets and other
public places remained susceptible to intrusion from the impolite"; and that "fictional men
of feeling . . . welcomed hetereosociality in the facilities supplied by the urban
renaissance." 13 Barker-Benfield's observation that the shift was both cultural and spatial is
refined further by Michele Cohen, who enlarges John Brewer's definition of politeness ("a
complete system of manners and conduct based on the arts of conversation") by placing it
"at the heart of the sociability that developed in the social and cultural spaces of the new
urban culture of early eighteenth-century England." 14 The illustrations of Yorick's
interaction with the French captain, the monk, and the Count de B****, as well as
Harley's meeting with old Edwards, all assert a sensibility that creates a comfortable, and
possibly amiable, public sphere by positing an emotional and spiritual kinship that could
kindle sympathetic feelings among all men.
The second mode of sentiment I would like to discuss, the domestic, is evident in the
1795 portrayal of "The Grace" by Richard Newton [see fig. 4-5], which depicts the jovial
camaraderie of a happy and fruitful family in a distinctly rural setting. Yorick is central to
the scene, seated on the "sopha of turf ' between the "old man and his wife" (ASJ 283),
but his clothing and his somber expression set him apart from the fluid and ethereal dance
he raptly observes. Although Sterne did not include any children in his scene, Newton
enhances its domestic quality by depicting a child in the lap of the mother, weaving
maternal sentiment into the overall idea of "Grace." The stone farm house suggests the
enduring, possibly mythic, relevance of the moment. Above Yorick's head hangs a bird
cage, an object that harmonizes the illustration with an earlier moment in A Sentimental
Journey , when the starling invokes sympathy from Yorick; the appearance of the cage here
ties both Yorick and the starling into the same sympathetic web as the dance. The
assorted figures in the dance — graceful, delicate women and angular, big-footed men —
form a harmony of opposites while paying conspicuous homage to the painting T_he
Country Dance by William Hogarth, the first illustrator of Sterne, by depicting his sinuous
"line of beauty" in the dancers' movements. The costumes of the two dancing men hint at
the power of the dance— and domestic sentiment— to reconcile class difference: one figure
wears a tri-cornered hat adorned with a cockade, a lace-fronted and lace-cuffed shirt, and
what seems to be a military jacket, while the other, also wearing lace cuffs, is dressed in a
simpler jacket and cap; their female partners are dressed as rural peasants. A character in
enormous jack-boots, presumably Le Fleur, stands off to the side, but his fixed gaze and
broad smile suggest his mental engagement in the revels. The style of Newton's rendition
successfully blends elements of the comic with a description of the spiritual, much as
Sterne himself does in his text. Taken as a whole, the composition and linear grace of this
illustration asserts both the earthly and spiritual benefits of happy domesticity.
As opposed to the conspicuously public aspect of social sentiment, domestic sentiment
is most often portrayed in and around modest dwellings, and represents a bonding
sympathy between members of a household and, importantly, extends to welcomed guests.
A significant but subtle statement of domestic sentiment occurs before "The Grace," when
Yorick happens upon a "little farm-house surrounded with about twenty acres of vineyard,
about as much corn — and close to the house, on one side, was a potaaerie of an acre and a
half, full of every thing which could make plenty in a French peasant's house" (ASJ 281).
The bountiful scene is a reflection of the fecund resident family, which consists of "an old
grey-headed man and his wife, with five or six sons and sons-in-law and their several
wives, and a joyous genealogy out of 'em" ( ASJ 281). As Yorick describes their after-
dinner dance, which becomes "The Grace," it becomes apparent that the earthly blessings
enjoyed by this family— the farm's plenty and their own abundant company— are basically
manifestations of a simple, deeply held sympathy with each other and the world around
It was not till the middle of the second dance, when, from some pauses in the
movement wherein they all seemed to look up, I fancied I could distinguish an
elevation of spirit different from that which is the cause or the effect of simple
jollity. — In a word, I thought I beheld Religion mixing in the dance. (ASJ 283-84)
The link between sentiment and religion in this domestic scenario is reinforced by Yorick's
observation of the confluence between the two in a passage shortly before his arrival at the
farmhouse, in which he praises the "great Sensorium of the world! which vibrates, if a hair
of our heads but falls upon the ground, in the remotest desert of thy creation" (ASJ 278),
a passage which resounds with Scriptural echoes. Here the rural family's domestic
sentiment is more than a sympathetic link between its members; it is also a conduit to and
from a deity who cradles the world in the grasp of its sensitive and providential care.
Mackenzie perhaps best depicts domestic sentiment in Edwards's relation of an
episode in his little farmhouse on Christmas Eve, where his "son's two little ones were
holding their gambols around us; my heart warmed at the sight: I brought a bottle of my
best ale, and all our misfortunes were forgotten" (MF 63). The cozy domesticity of this
scene is mirrored later in Mackenzie's work, albeit darkened by the shadow of tragedy:
after Harley establishes Edwards on a small farm with his orphaned grandchildren, "the old
man, with a look half turned to Harley and half to heaven, breathed an ejaculation of
gratitude and piety" (MF 71). Harley is particularly proud of his role in this re-
establishment of the good man's domesticity, remarking that upon his initial return with
Edwards's family, "his enjoyment was as great as if he had arrived from the tour of
Europe with a Swiss valet for his companion, and half a dozen snuff-boxes, with invisible
hinges, in his pocket" (MF 70). His recognition of the worthlessness of "Fashion, Bon
ton, and Vertu," which "are the names of certain idols, to which we sacrifice the genuine
pleasures of the soul" (ME 70) further reinforces Mackenzie's assertion that in the
pleasures of domestic sentiment lie the foundations for true happiness.
Like Newton's "Grace," the figures in George Cruikshank's 1832 "The Dance at
Amiens" [see fig. 4-6] also project Sterne's delicate balance between humor and delicate
feeling, emphasizing the comic aspect of the moment without detracting from the harmony
implied in the depiction. Here the celebration is set in a large, well-equipped kitchen, and
the spiral array of the figures frozen in mid-motion suggests a continuous movement of
dance, which, like "The Grace," has a significance that reverberates beyond its immediate
time and place. The seeming disarray within the frame conceals a careful compositional
balance: the fireplace opposes the open door, and three figures with uplifted hands create
the boundaries within which Le Fleur, the fille de chambre . and a vigorously dancing male
figure construct a smaller, more intimate circle; together the concentric circles form a
concentric universe and suggest an underlying harmony amidst the riotous celebration.
This all-embracing microcosm even includes two dogs, who, forsaking four legs for two,
become humanized in their attempt to join in the festivities. A figure at the far left peeks
in through an open door, drawn into the movement's joyous gravity. The open door
beckoning visitors to join in the festivity and the pot in the fireplace, along with Le Fleur' s
enlivening presence in the household, contribute to the suggestion that domestic sentiment
is an inclusive, rather than exclusive, phenomenon. Cruikshank's depiction is stylistically
linked to an even older tradition of humorous illustration of Sterne's text begun by
Hogarth and continued by Bunbury, Newton, and Rowlandson. 15 Cruikshank's work
might be seen as a move away from the purely sentimental depiction of A Sentimental
Journey as cultural interest in sentimentalism began to shift; but in contrast to its comic
surface, the artist's illustration projects a deep sense of joyous harmony in its domestic
In Sterne's text, the dance itself is set into motion by the polite necessity of Count de
L***'s servant having to reciprocate Le Fleur's kind gesture of a "cup or two" (ASJ 149)
of wine, an exchange of drink which mirrors the exchange of sentiment among servants
that escalates into an explosion of merriment and fellow-feeling. The cohesion of warm
emotion among fellow servants in the cozy environment of the kitchen creates an
atmosphere of joyous domestic sentiment, less profound, but similar to, the scene of "The
Grace." This is at least partially enabled by Le Fleur, who is described as having "a
passport in his very looks," and who has "set every servant in the kitchen at ease with
him" ( ASJ 149); almost spontaneously, La Fleur starts playing his fife (one of his few
talents was the ability to "play a march or two upon the fife" [ ASJ 124]) and, "leading off
the dance himself with the first note," he sets the " fille de chambre . the maitre d'hotel . the
cook, the scullion, and all the houshold, dogs and cats, besides an old monkey, a-dancing"
( ASJ 149). The absurdly inclusive roster of participants, reminiscent of Sterne's
breathless lists in Tristram Shandy , implies the presence of a kind of universalized
sentiment, and the engagement of animals in the moment makes the sentiment even more
universal. More spontaneous and lacking the actual consanguinity of "The Grace," this
episode in the domestic space of a kitchen implies a shared fellow-feeling among all
people (and all creatures, for that matter) that waits for provocation to surface.
These instances of domestic sentiment in A Sentimental Journey and The Man of
Feeling and, perhaps more so, their illustrations, depict what Barker-Benfield calls
sentimentalism's "elevation of social ties and affections" which contrast with "the selfish
and antisocial values of the world," 16 while also portraying the continuation of the ancient
conflict between urban and rural, cosmopolitan and domestic. Thus, as John Brewer
notes, sensibility, although comparable to an urban idea of "politeness," nonetheless
"accorded better with the more sober, domestic character of provincial life." 17 Similarly,
Jeffrey L. Duncan noted years ago that the abiding impression of "The Grace" is the
"goodness of these humble people who share the moral perfection traditionally
concomitant with their idyllic life." 18 What these illustrators specifically help us see in the
texts of Sterne and Mackenzie, perhaps, is that the lesson of politeness stemming from
sympathy was not only directed toward the upper class longing for an ideal, patrician
relationship with the rest of society, but that among middle- and lower-class readers, there
was, quite possibly, a real and prevalent desire to believe in the moral efficacy of simple
domestic life. A similar emphasis on domestic sentiment may be found in other works of
this period, such as Oliver Goldsmith's poem, "The Deserted Village" and William
Cowper's poem, "The Task."
That is to say, the domestic sentiment expressed in these scenes, both verbal and
visual, consistently suggests a universal fellowship of feeling among all men. Just as in the
case of the social sentiment expressed by the beggars in Montriul (and by old Edwards),
these instances of domestic sentiment run counter to the modernist assumption that
sensibility was the sole province of educated urbanites as reflected by Shaftesbury's
exclusionary vision and exemplified in Robert Markley's sweeping generalization that, "the
ideology of sentiment . . . explicitly promotes narrowly conservative and essentialist views
of class relations." 19 More accurate, I believe, is John Mullan's observation: "especially in
the writings of Richardson and Sterne, sensibility is not necessarily credited as a
possession uniquely of the educated and property-owning .... certain servants or
industrious members of the lower classes can have access to sensibility as natural, gestural
expression"; 20 this would seem to infer a broader appeal and more egalitarian stance for
sentiment than Markley's reading allows, and is borne out by both the texts and
illustrations discussed here, as well as by the work of proletarian poets such as Robert
Burns. This development of sensibility in the second half of the eighteenth century, a clear
shift away from the social elitism of Shaftesbury, suggests the possibility— or, at least, the
desirability — of a democratizing equivalence of feeling among all classes in society.
The third mode of sentiment I will discuss, the pathetic, is manifested in the 1794
illustration of Maria and Yorick by M. Archer [see fig. 4-7], which depicts the pair after
Maria gives Tristram's handkerchief to Yorick and then plays "her service to the Virgin"
( ASJ 274) on her pipe. After she "returned to herself," they both rise, and Yorick offers
to accompany her to Moulines; in response, "Maria put her arm within mine" (ASJ 274).
In this illustration, Yorick is shown supporting Maria, her limp arm entwined in his sturdy
one, while he makes an equally strong gesture with his left hand; Maria lingers a step
behind, her face downcast, while Sylvio sports alongside on his tether. Most interesting,
perhaps, is the way Yorick' s gaze is turned directly, almost awkwardly, toward Maria's
face; his effort to connect with her through the eyes, as he does so often with characters
(the grisette being the prime example), is here thwarted by Maria's withdrawn stance — the
angle of her head, tilted and downcast, along with the sagging of her body, denotes her
double distress and seemingly impenetrable woe— still, clearly, Yorick is trying to reach
her. The dense stand of trees to the left and the still water to the right seem at a
dimensional remove, physically isolated while they act to isolate the moment. The
strength of Yorick' s movements casts him in a heroic form as he seems to be pulling the
languid Maria away from the cave-like darkness formed by two tree trunks toward the
light, perhaps symbolic of a more hopeful future. 21 Both overtly and symbolically, the
illustration seems to advocate benevolent personal intervention on behalf of the mentally
Pathetic sentiment is defined here as an exchange between a suffering being and a
sympathetic listener/viewer. Pathetic sentiment always seems to involve a victim who
engages her (though sometimes his) witness in her distress through the relating of a story
and the signaling of tears. The establishment of a connection between the two characters
(a process which necessarily engages the reader, as well) is based almost entirely on a tale
of undeserved woe, and the victim rarely is described as having any fault other than an
affectionate and sensitive disposition — so sensitive, in fact, that distraction or madness
seems a commonplace result. The episode in A Sentimental Journey featuring Maria
provides the archtypical example of pathetic sentiment by projecting an isolated, two-
person tableau. Yorick discovers her through "a little opening in the road leading to a
thicket . . . under a poplar — she was sitting with her elbow in her lap, and her head leaning
on one side within her hand — a small brook ran at the foot of the tree" ( ASJ 270).
Maria's location — seemingly the same place to which Sterne left the character in Book IX
of Tristram Shandy — emphasizes isolation, a place where the offended creature of nature
banishes herself in a futile attempt at reconciliation with her woeful reality.
Pathetic sentiment— spurred by a cause similar to Maria's— surfaces in The Man of
Feeling in the "dismal mansions" (ME 19) of Bedlam, where, in a practice well-known to
Londoners of the eighteenth century, a party of curiosity-seekers visits for a day's
entertainment. Harley, after interacting with several seemingly satirical "wise" men, is led
to the women's quarters and notices an inmate "whose appearance had something of
superior dignity" (MF 21). She "showed a dejection of that decent kind, which moves our
pity unmixed with horror" (MF 21), and her story, related by the keeper, exacts from
Harley "the tribute of some tears" (MF 22). The "unfortunate young lady"— she never is
named— is, like Maria, driven partially insane by lost love, the recollection of which is
revived by the handling of physical symbols; her "little garnet ring" (MF 22), like Maria's
dog, is a reminder of her happy past. While the young lady in Bedlam does not share
Maria's countryside setting, she and Harley, like Maria and Yorick, form a sentimental
tableau of victim and sympathizer, equally isolated from their surroundings. Incomplete
beings, each pair finds completion in the other, excluding the rest of the world in the
intensity of their communion. In fact, the infernal chaos of Bedlam, separated both
psychologically and physically from the urban environment, is itself suspended in the
formation of a sentimental moment which is, in many ways, as emotionally delicate as
Maria's scene under the poplar.
The description of the run-down dwelling of the disgraced Emily Atkins in The Man of
Feeling projects a similar isolation, although it is set in yet a different type of environment.
The sentimental exchange of her storytelling and Harley' s sympathetic reception takes
place "up three pair of stairs" in a "small room lighted by one narrow lattice" (MF 37). In
this enclave, the site of the young woman's shame, Harley and Emily form a strongly
framed sympathetic tableau which, like the scene in Bedlam, effectively screens out the
dismal surroundings. This enclosing tableau heightens the impact of the passage's direct
plea for charity that is aimed particularly at woman readers: "Oh! did the daughters of
virtue know our sufferings Their censures are just, but their pity perhaps might spare
the wretches whom their justice should condemn" (ME 45). Unlike previous scenes of
pathos which only imply a didactic message, the legend of this sentimental tableau is
explicitly stated. In this location, which represents Emily's moral and emotional downfall,
Harley's behavior shows receptivity to Emily's plea: he is not at all motivated by sexual or
worldly desire and is markedly sensitive toward her individual plight — in a word, he is
ethical, and it seems to be the isolated encounter of the sufferer and the comforter that
forms the heart of the ethical moment.
The feeling heart binds the narrator to his single subject in a manner that defines an
emotional proscription of space shared by the sufferer and the sympathizer. The spatial
analogue to this type of sentimental relationship is suggested in Stothard's 1792
illustration of Yorick contemplating the caged starling [see fig. 4-8], barely visible at the
top of the picture, where his fellow-feeling for the bird is imaged by the box-like
passageway that forms a virtual cell around the foregrounded pair. In this instance, the
caged enclosure of the bird is echoed by the walled enclosure of Yorick, and hence
sufferer and comforter are bound together both physically and emotionally, isolated from
the bustle and activity of the world at the other end of a dark and barren alley. Stothard's
illustration helps us to see something in Sterne's text that might not otherwise be
apparent — namely, that Yorick' s encounter with the bird depends on the isolated tableau
the scene describes. The bold and full presentation of Yorick emphasizes the sympathetic
nature of his communion with the bird, an elevated but proportionately minimal figure.
Yorick's sturdy pose, which resembles Archer's depiction of him with Maria, denotes
physical strength to complement his sympathy, both of which are necessary for the
successful relief of misery. The isolation of the pair is particularly significant, as well:
only "in private," in "camera" (and the image partakes of the form of what one sees in the
camera obscura ). can one allow for the full and ethical response to the plight of the caged
bird; but in private — because it is private — Yorick's response is transformed from the
ludicrous to the ethical and the feeling heart is bound to a fellow-creature in a foundational
act of sympathy— one-to-one. In addition, Stothard's reflection on Sterne's abolitionist
subtext is hinted at by the inclusion of an unfettered dark-skinned, possibly turbaned,
figure leaning on a staff dimly visible in the background.
The 1802 illustration of "The Captive" by Gerard Rene Le Villain [see fig. 4-9] is
actually a picture within a picture, depicting both the powerfully imagined pathetic scene
and Yorick's reaction to it. The inner image portrays the bearded Captive stooped in his
stone cell, hands and feet in chains, holding in his hand one of his "little calender of small
sticks" ( ASJ 202); some light streams in through the iron-grated door, and the entire scene
is encircled by something like the mist of Yorick's imagination. The outer, enclosing
image portrays a fashionably dressed Yorick in the elegantly furnished room of the hotel,
complete with ornate bed, chairs, desk, and even elaborate ceiling moldings. Yorick is
turning away from his imagined victim with a dramatic gesture, one hand trying to stop the
vision while the other seizes his forehead in reaction to his own sympathetic despair. The
legend confirms the moment of sentimental climax: "I could not sustain the picture of
confinement which my fancy had drawn," which is Yorick's response to seeing the "iron
entering] his [the Captive's] soul" (ASJ 203). The fantastic and histrionic elements in this
illustration might be seen to have practical purposes: The well-appointed room and
Yorick's elegant (and certainly not priest-like) costume seem to address this episode to the
middle and upper classes, whose sympathy at this time was being solicited most
particularly by abolitionist organizations; in this sense, Le Villain's depiction of the
Captive might be seen as a pragmatic advertisement formed from the antislavery message
in Sterne's text— complete with a light-skinned victim with whom they could easily
Although some critics desire to identify the Captive as an incarcerated criminal
(Markley labels him simply a "prisoner," 22 while Lorenz Eitner remarks acidly, " the
thought that the sufferer might be a felon is not likely to trouble the sympathetic
beholder" 23 ), Yorick clearly finds his "single captive" among "the millions of my fellow
creatures born to no inheritance but slavery" (ASJ 201), and he had previously exclaimed,
"Disguise thyself as thou wilt, still slavery! . . . still thou art a bitter draught . thousands
in all ages have been made to drink of thee" (ASJ 199). Although some of Sterne's
statements seem more generally humanitarian than specifically anti-slavery, critics who
overlook these specific references to slavery in their quest for an exploitative
sentimentalism not only do Sterne's text a disservice, but also nullify its significant social
direction of using fellow-feeling as a springboard to social reform. Markman Ellis notes
that the scene has "not been treated as part of Sterne's discourse on slavery" and suggests
that "the theme of slavery is perhaps an ideally suited raw material for a sentimentalised
expression." 24 Sterne's passage (and perhaps more so Le Villain's illustration) remains at
its core an emotional passage condemning the inhumanity of any type of captivity on
While these scenes occur in different types of settings, they reinforce the consistency
of a tableau-like isolation as a representative characteristic of pathetic sentiment. The
background typically loses significance in these scenes Oust as the street scene is
minimized in Stothard's portrayal of Yorick and the starling). This visual treatment
reiterates the verbal text's tendency to focus all attention on the foreground portrayal of
the victim and his or her sympathizer; this approach to the presentation of pathetic
sentiment, verbal or visual, very effectively engages the sympathy of the reader/viewer by
directing his or her attention intently and forcefully on the pathos of the moment. In fact,
the different locations of pathetic sentiment— the "dismal mansion" of Bedlam, the seat
under the poplar, the shabby room, the cage, and the gloomy dungeon— share a sense of
isolation from the world, and this physical separation augments the pathos of these scenes
by emphasizing the emotional distance between the victim and the rest of society. In
actuality, this geographical distance, actual or virtual, may have provided opportunities for
unscrupulous and unsympathetic exploiters (men in particular) of the distressed, and the
intimate scenes described by Sterne and Mackenzie may be seen as offering a
counterargument for and guidance in legitimate sympathetic behavior. Ellis explains,
"sentimental scenarios work by being personalised, unique and discrete, so as to place the
maximum pressure on the relation between the subject and the viewer." 2 The isolation of
the sufferer and sympathizer inevitably emphasizes the moral aspect of pathetic sentiment,
which is most effectively relayed and received on a one-to-one basis; to a degree, the
viewer of the illustration shares in this intimacy, as well. The contemporary artists who
render A Sentimental Journey emphasize the text's tendency to stage pathetic sentiment in
isolated locations that are transformed into sites of delicate fellow-feeling, and in the
process enhance the text's recommendation for revised cultural attitudes toward insanity,
the abandonment of women, prostitution, and slavery.
The fourth and last mode of sentiment, the erotic, is set forth in Thomas Rowlandson's
lightly detailed, almost comic 1808 illustration of "Yorick Feeling the Grisset's Pulse" [see
fig. 4-10]. Yorick, in somber black and seated causally with his legs crossed at the knees
(in a feminine style, perhaps reflecting his delicate approach to seduction), gingerly cradles
the grisset's wrist with one hand while the other hand is intriguingly hidden. The grisset,
whose thick, inelegant arm and strong features help identify her as working class, has her
feet positioned as if she is ready to spring up, and her eyes are focused intently on her
husband; her mind seems open to his attentions while her body is given over to Yorick.
The husband— who occupies the space between the dark and private depths of the shop
and the bustling public arena of the street— bows cordially, hat in hand; the fancy garb
portrayed by Rowlandson here raises the character several notches in social rank over his
description in Sterne's text, perhaps suggesting that middle and upper class males might
emulate what looks like the husband's genteel tolerance in a situation that could have
erupted in violence. A tension between restraint and sexual energy is suggested by the
contrasting figure of the monk, seemingly frowning on the activities in the shop from the
busy street outside, and the pert poodle and smiling head mannequin near the grisset; these
bold and bright symbols of sensuality win out in the composition against the distant and
dim figure of the monk. Here private space borders the public area, but erotic sentiment
and emotional bonds overwhelm both-Yorick does not release the wrist, the grisset does
not shrink— and Rowlandson clearly gives the palm to the sexual. 26
Throughout A Sentimental Journey , Yorick's establishment of fellow-feeling with
female characters conceals a barely-disguised, discreetly reciprocated sexual intent. This
erotic mode of sentiment is frequently expressed in urban surroundings, but at a remove
from the eye of the world, in a private sphere ensconced in the public. 27 For instance,
Yorick, looking for someone to provide him with directions to the "Opera comique,"
walks along "in search of a face not likely to be disordered by such an interruption" (ASJ
161). His prerequisite for social intercourse is a sympathetic character, and the grisset
confirms his choice with her spoken response of "most willingly" and the physical act of
"rising up from the low chair she was sitting in, with so chearful a movement and so
chearful a look" (ASJ 161). Here the mutual recognition of a sympathetic bond between
Yorick and the grisset creates an understanding on which to base their momentary erotic
exchange, suggestively manifested when Yorick tries on a pair of gloves and, as
Rowlandson depicts, takes the grisset' s pulse; these exhibits of "sentiment" take place in
the private urban enclave of the grisset' s shop. Rowlandson' s style helps to visually
represent Sterne's verbal ambiguity here by effectively portraying a delicate balance
between the sentimental and the erotic.
An 1803 illustration by John Thurston [see fig. 4-11] envisions Yorick and the fiUede
chambre sitting side by side on his bed. Seated in an upright yet comfortable manner, the
young woman shows Yorick the purse she has made to hold the crown he gave her, which
he carefully inspects; the impropriety of her being seated on the bed is subtly enhanced by
the probably improper position of Yorick's hand, the back of which lingers just above her
knee ("I held it [the purse] ten minutes with the back of my hand resting upon her lap-
looking sometimes at the purse, sometimes on one side of it" [ASJ 236]). The focus of
the figures on the purse demonstrates Fried's quality of "absorption" mentioned earlier in
reference to the illustration of Yorick and Maria; the concentrated gaze of the characters
on the object, to the exclusion of everything (and everybody) else, here not only intensifies
the erotic tension of the image, but also serves to unify the tableau around a discrete
center and strengthen its message of consensual relations. Both of the figures have their
legs crossed at the ankles, perhaps a gesture of restraint, although the woman's ankles are
titillatingly revealed, hinting at an underlying erotic desire. Perhaps the most suggestive
feature of the illustration is the opulent bed itself, the heavy curtains of which seem to
threaten to come loose to engulf the pair within its dark inner sanctum, a covert space
physically as well as morally distant from society and its mores. As a whole, the
illustration seems to emphasize an almost shared feeling of innocence which, even if it
does constitute a prelude to sexual contact (and we can never be certain from Sterne's
text), stresses the need for emotional mutuality as the foundation for a sexual relationship.
Although some readers have found Yorick's interaction with the fille de chambre to be
an example of class exploitation (curiously indifferent to most of the verbal and gestural
dialogue, Markley focuses on Yorick's gift of a crown as representing the mercantile
motives of sentiment 28 ), I would suggest, to the contrary, that the exchange of delicate
feelings in the chapters "The Fille de Chambre" and "The Temptation" (and perhaps in
"The Pulse" as well) reveals Yorick's reluctance to use class to coerce an erotic liaison;
instead, he extends a sentimental egalitarianism to likely candidates, who must respond in
kind in order for the possibility of erotic contact to proceed. Certainly there is no
indication that the filledechambre 's appearance at Yorick's hotel is motivated by the
promise of financial or social gain. On the contrary, Yorick and the young woman are
equally able to prompt sensitive reactions out of each other, notwithstanding differences in
class, and their (probably fleeting) relationship can be said to provide a model for erotic
exchange based in fellow-feeling rather than exploitation. The ambiguity of the
"Conquest," of course, extends itself to the ambiguities of the reader concerning sexual
union; sexual impropriety is, after all, a question of who is writing and reading the conduct
book, and here Sterne constructs the scene as either reticent or provocative— we cannot
tell which. Underlying this playful ambiguity, however, the episode and, perhaps more so
its visual rendition, present the reader with an application of sentimental interaction that
promotes emotional mutuality as a basis for relations between the sexes.
Interestingly, the illustrations of this scene that accompanied Sterne's text in the first
forty years of publication emphasized the moment of tense delicacy in the hotel, stressing
the balance between propriety and sexuality in a private, yet urbane, setting that is perhaps
closer to Sterne's own intention than recent efforts to settle the question of Sterne's
"conquest" by theories of exploitation. The illustrators seem to suggest an emphasis on
the feeling moment rather than the possible physical interaction between the two, reducing
the sexual implications of the scene in favor of the depiction of fellow-feeling between the
sexes. Jean Hagstrum correctly observes that "Sterne was preoccupied with both
physical love and sentimental delicacy, both being the kinds of love that bind humanity
together." 29 The mixture of these two concerns lies at the heart of an erotic sentiment that
promotes consensual sexuality; this would ideally be nurtured in the cultured atmosphere
of an urban(e) environment, yet at a private remove.
Other incidents of Yorick's establishment of erotic sentiment include his encounters
with Madame de L*** in the remise, the Marquesina di F*** on the steps of the Milan
opera, and the Piedmontese lady in the last episode, "The Case of Delicacy." While the
last instance occurs at an inn, the lady's urban sophistication clearly facilitates the initial
negotiations and enriches their discussion with an erotic subtext. The Man of Feeling ,
significantly, contains no similar instances of erotic sentiment; Emily Atkins's attempt "to
force a leer of invitation into her countenance" (MF 33) inspires a pathetic, rather than
erotic, sentimental reaction from Harley.
The association between the city and a corrupting sexuality existed throughout the
eighteenth century. After her rape, Clarissa states that "I knew nothing of the town or its
ways," 30 a theme that recurs in works such as "The Deserted Village," "The Task," and
George Crabbe's "The Village" (1783); in the case of Emily Atkins, the city is the site of
her social and moral downfall. The didactic effect of a sexuality of sensibility
recommends, perhaps, a more gentle and balanced physical relationship between the sexes,
a distinct revision of what Barker-Benfield identifies as the older "warrior society [which]
ruled their women with brute force." 31 Sterne's purpose— well-portrayed by Thurston—
seems intent, for example, on the reciprocity of female desire in Yorick's sexual
encounters; recognizing this tendency, New alludes to the foundation of erotic sentiment,
suggesting that "perhaps Sterne's major insight into the nature of human desire is the idea
that the most satisfying human union is achieved when the female penetrates and the male
receives." 32 The ability of the feminine to "penetrate" in erotic sentimentality is
symbolized by the fille de chambre's assertive gesture of repairing Yorick's stock, passing
"her hand in silence across and across my neck in the manoeuvre" (ASJ 236), as the young
woman's needle repeatedly pierces Yorick's clothing. This quality is also evident, as New
points out, in the grisset's "quick black eye" that "shot through two such long and silken
eye-lashes with such penetration, that she look'd into my very heart and reins" (ASJ 168-
69). 33 On the other hand, Harley's reticence to take advantage of female misery for sexual
gratification can be seen as a feminized tendency, just as Emily Atkins's bold solicitation
implies her partial masculinization. Perhaps growing from this exchange of roles comes
the desire for consensual relations between the sexes and a renewed condemnation of
society's exploitation of women, both of which attitudes seem to be associated with the
new manners required for urban life, where women were both more sophisticated about
their sexuality, and more miserable when objectified. But in order to understand this
reformation, it is necessary to recognize that not all sexual surrender is the result of
exploitation; Sterne and the eighteenth-century illustrators of his work seem to have
realized that better than some of his modern commentators.
Although my study of the contemporary illustrations of the four categories of
sentimental expression in literature— the social, the domestic, the pathetic, and the
erotic— and their definition in terms of specific location— is necessarily brief and tentative,
I would like to suggest a few possible conclusions pertaining to A Sentimental Journey
and The Man of Feeling , based on an admittedly preliminary study of the illustrated
editions of these texts I was able to consult. With some consistency, the illustrations of
both of these works locate social sentiment in public arenas such as streets or roads;
domestic sentiment in modest, rural farmhouses; pathetic sentiment in tableau-like scenes
of isolation; and erotic sentiment in the city, but discreetly hidden from public view. The
close association of sentiment and location reflected by contemporary illustrators suggests
to me that the sentimental scenes in these works are being asked to serve as lessons in
sensitive behavior in an increasingly "civilized" urban environment. People on the road-
gentlemen and beggars alike— instead of being viewed as either nuisances or enemies, are
shown to have the ability to share fellow-feelings that transcend social barriers. Homes,
even city apartments, can aspire to embody the standards of a rural domesticity that
features a close and companionable family. A broadened sympathetic outlook on the part
of members of the middle and upper classes could shift the perspective toward the plight
of distressed people from ignorance or ostracization to sympathy and charitable offers of
assistance. Even erotic relationships might be viewed as extensions of the delicate facility
of sentiment rather than the result of bodily urges, thus advocating a degree of consensus
and equality between the sexes. In these ways, the models of sentiment expressed in the
artwork accompanying early editions of A Sentimental Journey and The Man of Feeling, in
their "readings" of the texts, recommend location-specific lessons in behavior for their
readers in the mid-eighteenth century.
To some extent, this didactic sentimentality asserted by the illustrators of A
Sentimental Journey and The Man of Feeling is in concert with some recent critical
observations that attempt to put the combined lessons of sentimental fiction into a socio-
historical context. Barker-Benfield sees the more "effeminate" male advocated by
sentimental literature as a civic improvement over the rake of the "alehouse culture" of the
late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries. He notes that the proponents of "the new
ideology of sensibility . . . posed 'the social affections' — sympathy, compassion,
benevolence, humanity, and pity— against selfishness." 34 John Dwyer states that the
novels of Mackenzie "should be read primarily as moralistic tracts outlining a 'gentle
sensibility' productive of an active benevolence and concomitant social harmony."
Focusing this concept more specifically, Elizabeth Foyster comments that "in the
eighteenth century, arguments in support of manly self-control and governance were given
an unprecedented force when they became the desirable characteristics of the 'polite' or
'civil' gentleman"; 36 these characteristics, of course, form the prerequisites for
sentimentalism. This cultural shift in the direction of benevolence and the consideration
toward others seems to be reflected most strongly in both Sterne and Mackenzie in the
behavior of Yorick and Harley toward strangers of both sexes.
By directing attention to the plight of the poor and disenfranchised, sentimental
didacticism could also rouse sympathetic feelings in its readership toward charitable
causes; this aspect of the texts is enhanced even further by the artists' visualizations, which
bring their words to life with an impact stronger than words alone. Commenting on the
phenomenon of the sentimental novel, Ellis notes that although it was "entertainment," it
was "a recognised agent for the dissemination of argument and advice; and as such, was a
powerful method of advertising charitable concerns in the mid century." 37 Specific
instances of pathetic sentiment in Sterne and Mackenzie pictured by illustrators seem to
emphasize the possibility of extending fellow-feeling between socially unequal
individuals — such as the poor or insane — through the recognition of basic emotional
similarities between humans; the didacticism of these episodes is further enhanced by the
locations of the sentimental dramas, which seem to suggest specific places where acts of
sympathy could (or should) be practiced.
More broadly, the illustrations of these texts can been seen to depict the possibility of
a spontaneous and innate relationship among people of different social classes by
representing everyone as participating in similar ideas of sentiment in locations used by all
social classes. In addition, the episodes of social and domestic sentiment demonstrate
examples of fellow-feeling between poor or working-class people that might be considered
enviable by a middle- or upper-class reader.
The contemporary illustrations of Sterne's and Mackenzie's texts offer a privileged
perspective of the period, a unique window into the perception of eighteenth-century
sensibility that runs counter to modern ideas about the immoral or exploitative nature of
sentiment. The artists, inspired by the written texts and yet forced to work within the
limitations of physical as well as cultural frames, distill sentiment into its essential
signifying elements— images and symbols of urban politeness, domestic harmony,
sympathy between individuals, and a mutual and emotional sexuality. The illustrations
help us see sentimentalism as a moral and socially ameliorating institution because they
focus the viewer's attention on the specific components of the feeling moment, possibly
more effectively than the words themselves. While a single illustration by itself might have
difficulty in making this claim on behalf of sentimentality, as a group the depictions act
collectively to define a code of morality latent in the texts, and function as a basis from
which the modern viewer may excavate a contemporary perspective which has been
obscured by time: the real physical existence of each and every sufferer, the presence of
the human body as a reality rather than an ideological abstract, the linking of two human
beings in emotional communion, and, most of all, the relationship between any two people
made to comprise one proximate image. Indeed, these images form the "ideology" of
eighteenth-century sentiment and may well constitute a more profound basis for ethical
social conduct than anything we have developed in our own time.
Sentimental texts have been accused of perpetuating the social, cultural, and economic
status quo , acting as propagandistic tools of the ruling classes to wield control over their
social and economic inferiors. Seemingly motivated by ideological thinking, Markley
claims that in A Sentimental Journey . Sterne "attempts to resolve the problems of
championing bourgeois virtue in a hierarchically structured society by using money as a
way of assigning and confirming value." 38 Markley' s favorite example of this type of
economic-sentimental transaction is Yorick's act of giving a coin to the fille de chambre in
the street as he commends her virtue; this example, however, is one of only a few
moments in either Sterne or Mackenzie where money is involved. In his rush to prove the
predominance of economic factors in sentimental literature, Markley has necessarily
overlooked the particulars of the majority of sentimental exchanges in Sterne's work, as
well as the true currency common to them all: emotion. Similarly, George Haggarty has
accused Harley (and Yorick is similarly guilty in his eyes) of being a "late capitalist
subject" acting for his own narcissistic satisfaction in his attempt to help Emily Atkins; I
would suggest, instead, that in neither exploiting her nor leaving her on the street, he
offers a lesson that furthers the cause of humanity.
In her examination of The Man of Feeling . Maureen Harkin similarly finds any possible
didacticism conveyed by the text blunted by the hero's ultimate ineffectuality: "his
apparent inability to intervene in any but the most limited sense (by means of donations to
individuals) to prevent or redress the wrongs he laments." 40 This claim becomes
problematic, however, when considered in light of the two major episodes in which Harley
very effectively helps to reconstitute families: his rescue of Emily Atkins and his assistance
to old Edwards and his grandchildren. While Harley does not initiate a national campaign
to prevent the exploitation of women by predatory males or to end the use of press gangs
as a military recruiting technique, he does successfully remedy two domestic disasters
using compassion as his guide. This, too, is an important ethical— and political— lesson.
The sympathetic gesture of assistance, however insignificant it may appear from
certain politically-motivated perspectives, grows from the recognition of the individual as
a valid entity (a recognition Yorick overtly and specifically exercises with the Captive).
With its ability literally to embody the words on the page, the visual portrayal of individual
suffering is able to create a stronger sympathetic bond by more directly and forcefully
asserting a moral message; a depiction of Emily Atkins, her father, and Harley [see fig. 4-
12], for instance, uses the human form to starkly relate the message of fellow-feeling. The
unsigned illustration affirms the importance of the individual in the conveyance of the
sympathetic message; while the illustration may actually date from almost any point in the
nineteenth century, it starkly conveys the message of fellow-feeling. The three figures,
closely cropped by the frame, form a composition that balances the plea for sympathy with
the recipient of the plea: one side of the picture depicts Harley and Emily, their hands
extended in appeal, with Emily's hand nearly touching her father's drawn sword; the other
side depicts Atkins, in uniform and with his hand on his breast, at the moment of doubt
when his anger melts into pity. The figures are dressed well, though plainly; Emily's dress
is probably of better quality and in better condition than her costume is portrayed in
Mackenzie's text, and the loose tresses that fall on her shoulder suggest a disorder
reminiscent of Sterne's Maria, whose emotional descent is also tied to male betrayal. Very
little background competes with the figures in the foreground: the corner of a wall, one of
the few discernible details, divides the image neatly into two halves.
Perhaps everything in this illustration is subordinate to the faces of the characters,
however: Harley earnestly and expectantly meets Atkins's eyes with his own; Emily blocks
access to Harley while her expression pleads her condition, with eyes uplifted but face
angled down, suggestive of both hope and shame; and Atkins shows an expression that
reveals a slowly dawning sympathy. The face, which may be tentatively described with
words but can be truly represented only visually, I would suggest, is crucial to the success
of the illustrator in conveying a moral didacticism. Writing on the philosopher Emmanuel
Levinas, Donald R. Wehrs states that "the dimension incarnate in the other's face . . will
not release us from obligation and . . . cannot be 'grasped' by our partisan, partial
categories, whatever their validity." 41 Looking back over the illustrations discussed here,
the faces of the characters are consistently central, explicitly or implicitly reaching out to
the viewer. The transcendent appeal of the face is the unspoken magic ingredient in visual
depictions of these texts of sentiment, the magnet that draws the viewer into sympathetic
communion while their instructive visual tales unfold. The chemistry of this communion,
however, may be more complex than simple fellow-feeling for the sufferer, as Wehrs
that which is incarnate in the other's face is not merely 'produced' by other, potentially
inferior cultural categories (as with the monk), nor is it merely the "effect" of
generalized, materially grounded desire (in which case exchanging sex for money with
the fille de chambre would be to follow nature). Rather, in the theological language
that Sterne and Levinas share, what is incarnate in the face of the other is the image of
God; all our notions and projects must arise from and answer to the predication of our
ipseity upon the ethical relation that incarnation will not allow us to evade.
The face, therefore, presents to the viewer an unavoidable imperative, a confrontation not
only with another person, but with the universe itself. The sentimental text and more
obviously, its illustrations, use the face not only as a superficial badge that attracts the
sympathy of the viewer, but also as a conduit to a higher power which redeems and
reinforces the sentimental intercourse by weaving the moment— and the viewer— into a
universal whole, the "great Sensorium of the world" ( ASJ 278).
The process of "viewing" in itself carries another moral implication that these book
illustrations seem to exploit, consciously or otherwise. Ian Heywood cites Iris Murdoch's
desire to lift "the siege of the individual by concepts" and recognizes her insistence that "at
the roots of morality, almost its primary units, are the efforts of one individual to achieve
the good of another, and a vital part of these efforts is 'attention' described as 'a just and
loving gaze directed upon an individual reality.'" 43 By compelling us to look upon
"individual realities," the illustrators of A Sentimental Journey and The Man of Feeling cut
through a morass of political and social preoccupations— both in their age and our own-
to illuminate an ideology of sentimentality inherent in their texts, an ideology which
recommends ethical behavior as a link to both individual people and a larger matrix that
touches all humanity.
1. Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy , ed. Gardner D.
Stout, Jr. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: U. of California Press, 1967), 271. Hereafter cited
parenthetically in the text.
2. Michael Fried. Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beho lder in the Age of
Diderot (Berkeley and Los Angeles: U. of California Press, 1980), esp. 7-35. An example
that Fried cites, from a 1761 painting by Carle Van Loo, suggests parallels with the
absorptive quality of Edwards's composition: in it, he notes, "the obliviousness of the girls
to being observed dramatizes their raptness in the story" (27). Sterne, and to a lesser
degree, Mackenzie, also express Fried' s quality of "theatricality," especially in their
3. Fried 103.
4. On the definition of sentiment, see Erik Erametsa, A Study of the Word
"Sentimental" and of Other Linguistic Characteristic s of Eighteenth Century
Sentimentalism in England (Helsinki: n.p., 1951), esp. 54.
5. Tnhn Mullan. Sentiment and Sociability: T he Language of Feeling in the Eighteenth
Century (Oxford: Clarendon, 1988), 16.
6. Melvyn New, "Proust's Influence on Sterne: Remembrance of Things to Come,"
MLN 103 (1988): 1040.
7. For further discussion of the phenomenon of sentimentalism in the late-eighteenth
century, see R. F. Brissenden, Virtue in Distress (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1974);
Carol McGuirk, Robert Burns and the Sentimental Era (Athens, GA: U. of Georgia Press,
1985); Janet Todd, Sensibility: An Introduction (New York: Methuen, 1986); Sensibility
in Transformation , ed. Syndy Conger (Rutherford, NJ and London: Fairleigh Dickinson U.
Press, 1990); Isabel Rivers, Reason. Grace, and Sentiment: A Study of the Languag e of
Religion and Ethics in England (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge U. Press, 1991);
Ann Jessie Van Sant, Eighteenth-Centurv Sensibility and the Novel (Cambridge and new
York: Cambridge U. Press, 1993); Barbara M. Benedict, Framing Feeling : Sentiment and
Stvle in English Prose Fiction. 1745-1800 (New York: AMS, 1994); Jerome McGann,
The Poetics of Sensibility: A Revolution in Literary Style (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996); as
well as the works of Mullan, Markman, Hagstrum, and Barker-Benfield cited elsewhere in
8. These statistics, gleaned from the combined online resources of the English Short
Title Catalogue (2000, British Library and ESTC/NA, 21 May 2001
<http://eureka.rlg.org>), the Research Library Group Union Catalogue (18 May 2001
<http://eureka.rlg.org>), and the catalogue of the National Library of Scotland (28 May
2001 <http://main-cat.nls.uk>), in conjunction with the British Libra ry Catalogue (22
April 2001 <http://ww.bl.uk/catalogues/blpc.html>), include the publication of both
single titles ( A Sentimental Journey and The Man of Feeling ) and editions of the authors'
complete works. The figures on editions of Sterne's Works are supplemented by Alan B.
Howes' s Yorick and the Critics: Sterne's Reputation in England. 1760-1868 (New Haven,
CT: Archon, 1971). Editions of selections, such as Beauties of Sterne (which also appear
to outnumber similar collections of Mackenzie's work), were not included. Reissues were
counted as new editions for the purposes of this survey. Although this is necessarily a
preliminary and incomplete study — more catalogues could be scrutinized, and information
about the number of each edition sold would obviously be desirable (if such information is
indeed discernible) — my survey presents a basic idea of the popularity of the two texts,
especially in relation to one another.
In general, bibliographies and book catalogues are notorious for underreporting
illustrated editions; the only means of certainly determining whether an individual edition
is illustrated or not entails on-site inspection. To complicate this further, illustrations were
occasionally "tipped in" to otherwise non-illustrated editions, and different copies within
the same, otherwise uniform edition include different illustrations. While not every edition
from these authors was available to me, a substantial number were individually reviewed
for this study.
9 Of all the types of sentiment portrayed in A Sentimental Journey and The Man of
Feeling romantic sentiment, the fifth and final category, is the most difficult to visualize,
possibly because the fellow-feeling is imaginatively embodied within a single character
rather than realized by the actual presence of characters in a physical location. This type
of sentiment indeed might be identified by its lack of place, except, perhaps, as it occurs in
the fanciful realm of the lover's heart. Eliza, the subject of Yorick's romantic fixation, is
mentioned six times in A Sentimental Journey ; she is not involved in any action perse, but
is addressed by the narrator as though he intended her to read his words. Her only
physical "appearance" is in the form of a portrait miniature, "the little picture which I have
so long worn, and so often have told thee, Eliza, I would carry with me into my grave"
( ASJ 67). Paralleling Sterne's actual relationship with a portrait of Eliza Draper, Yonck
treats the miniature as a real person; however, the fellow-feeling that Yorick expresses for
Eliza in A Sentimental Journey is never reciprocated.
Although set briefly in an actual place, the location of romantic sentiment in The Man
of Feeling also exists primarily in Harley's imagination. Harley is so overwhelmed by
romantic sentiment— and the possibility that it would not be reciprocated— that his tearful
confession to Miss Walton is made only after he has resigned himself to death. Their
sentimental communion is therefore short-lived: "He seized her hand— a languid colour
reddened his cheek— a smile brightened faintly in his eye. As he gazed on her, it grew
dim, it fixed, it closed" (MF 92). In both instances, the idea— and ideal— of romantic
sentiment is'too remote and elusive to be tied down to an actual location; the absence of
illustrations of these incidents further suggests the difficulty of depicting a physical space
where romantic sentiment can take place. A skeptical interpretation of these passages
might question whether romantic sentiment could actually be shared by two people in a
"real" location at all; it would be a challenge finally accepted by the Brontes.
1 1 . Henry Mackenzie, The Man of Feeling , ed. Kenneth C. Slagle (New York:
Norton, 1958), 68. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.
12. Harley's tendency to use appearance to judge character ("physiognomy was one
of Harley's foibles" [MF 29]) is depicted as fallible, however, leading several critics to
broadly conclude that sentiment is an ineffective way of interacting with the world. For
instance, in "Mackenzie's Man of Feeling : Embalming Sensibility," ELH 61:2 (1994),
Maureen Harkin observes that "once out of his familiar domain, one of Harley's most
obvious and consistent features is his lack of skill in decoding signs" (330); as a result,
Harkin continues, Harley assumes the position as an "inferior interpreter," which "strikes
at his most fundamental claim to authority" (332). It might be suggested, however, that it
is the narrator who claims didactic authority, and not Harley, as is demonstrated by the
chapter heading, "His skill in physiognomy is doubted" (MF 35). The gap of authority
between the narrator and Harley suggests the possibility that Harley's errors themselves
are meant to have instructive meaning by representing the dangers of reliance on sentiment
alone for making judgments, without the complementary influences of reason and
Conversely Yorick's ability to render "the several turns of looks and limbs, with all
their inflections and delineations, into plain words" (ASJ 171) meets with frequent success
as a means of determining character.
13. G. J. Barker-Benfield, The Culture of Sensibility: Sex and Society in Eighteenth-
Centurv Britain (1992; Chicago and London: U. Chicago Press, 1996), 94 and 218-19.
14. Michele Cohen, "Manliness, Effeminacy and the French: Gender and the
Construction of National Character in Eighteenth-Century England," in English
Masculinities 1660-1800 , ed. Tim Hitchcock and Michele Cohen (London: Longman,
1999), 46. Cohen cites from John Brewer, The Pleasures of the Imagina tion: English
Culture in the Ei ghteenth Century (London: HarperCollins, 1997), 111.
15. Scenes in Sterne's work were depicted in a comic style as prints independent of
text from the 1770s through the 1790s. See David Alexander, "Sterne, the 18 -Century
Print Market, and the Prints in Shandy Hall," Shandean 5 (1993): 1 10-24, as well as Peter
de Voogd, "Henry William Bunbury, Illustrator of 'Tristram Shandy,'" Shandean 3
(1991): 138-44 and "Robert Dighton's Twelve 'Tristram Shandy' Prints," Shandean 6
16. Barker-Benfield 218.
17. Brewer 498.
18. Jeffrey L. Duncan, "The Rural Ideal in Eighteenth-Century Fiction," Studies in
En glish Literature 8:3 (1968): 530.
19. Robert Markley, "Sentimentality as Performance: Shaftesbury, Sterne, and the
Theatrics of Virtue" in The New Eighteenth Centurv: Theory. Politics. English Lite rature,
ed. Felicity Nussbaum and Laura Brown (1987; London: Routledge, 1991), 212.
21. Archer's depiction of a standing Maria is different (perhaps deliberately so) from
the predominant image of the character in paintings and prints during the late-eighteenth
century, which depicts her sitting forlorn and alone under a tree. The character of Maria
was often painted in this seated pose from 1770 onward, and young women of the period
often assumed the melancholy air and costume of Maria for their own portraits; the
character also appeared frequently in this seated form on decorative household items.
Thus Yorick's persistent memory of the pose and location of Maria ("in every scene of
festivity I saw Maria in the back-ground of the piece, sitting pensive under her poplar"
[ ASJ 277]) to some extent foretells the cultural resonance of her image. For more on the
depiction of Maria in paintings, see Catherine M. Gordon, British Paintings of Subjects
from the English Novel 1740-1870 (Outstanding Theses in the Fine Arts from British
Universities; New York and London: Garland, 1988), 73-76; and Richard D. Altick,
Paintings from Books: Art and Literature in B ritain. 1760-1900 (Columbus, OH: Ohio
State U. Press, 1985), 402-3. For a discussion of representations of Maria on decorative
pottery, see W. B. Gerard, "Sterne in Wedgwood: 'Poor Maria' and the 'Bourbonnais
Shepherd'" Shandean 12 (2001): 78-88.
23. Lorenz Eitner, "Cages, Prisons, and Captives in Eighteenth-Century Art," in
Ima ges of Romanticism: Verbal and Visual Affinities , ed. Karl Kroeber and William
Walling (New Haven, CT: Yale U. Press, 1978), 34.
24. Markman Ellis, The Politics of Sensibility (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge
U. Press, 1996), 71, 72.
25. Ellis 72.
26. Rowlandson's artwork, according to the title of the edition, is "from Original
Drawings by Newton," acknowledging their debt to previous illustrations by Newton
(originally published in 1795 but revised and republished several times before 1820),
including fig. 4-5, "The Grace," which has been discussed above. A strong resemblance
exists between the renditions of the two artists (according to the Research Library Group
Union Catalogue [11 June 2001 <http://eureka.rlg.org>], these drawings have apparently
been mistakenly attributed to Rowlandson on occasion), but overall, Rowlandson's style
might be seen as refining both the comic and sentimental elements of Sterne's text first
delineated by his predecessor.
27. The phrase "eye[s] of the world" is used three times in Sterne's sermons (The
Sermons of Laurence Sterne , ed. Melvyn New [Gainesville, FL: U. Press of Florida,
1996], 159. 14, 166.5, 245. 1 1) to denote the judgmental observation of society. The
visual reference is of particular interest when considering how the illustrators represent
society's gaze (for instance, by the monk in Rowlandson) in depictions of erotic sentiment.
28. Markley 210-11.
29. Tean Hagstnim. Sex and Sensibility: Ideal and Erotic Love from Milton to Mozart
(Chicago and London: U. of Chicago Press, 1980), 259.
30. Samuel Richardson, Clarissa, or The History of a Young Lady , ed. Angus Ross
(London: Penguin, 1985), 1105.
31. Barker-Benfield 79.
32. New 1038.
33. New 1037.
34. Barker-Benfield 65, 215.
35. John Dwyer, "Clio and Ethics: Practical Morality in Enlightened Scotland" The
Ei ghteenth Century 30:1 (1989): 65.
36. Elizabeth Foyster, "Boys will be Boys? Manhood and Aggression, 1660-1800" in
English Masculinities 1660-1800 . 165.
37. Ellis 16.
39. George Haggarty, "Amelia's Nose; or Sensibility and its Symptoms," The
Ei ghteenth Century 36:2 (1995): 147.
41 . Donald R. Wehrs, "Levinas and Sterne: From the Ethics of the Face to the
Aesthetics of Unrepresentability" in Critical Essavs on Laurence Sterne , ed. Melvyn New
(New York: G. K. Hall, 1998), 324.
42. Wehrs 324.
43. Ian Heywood, '"Ever More Specific': Practices and Perceptions in Art and
Ethics" in Interpreting Visual Culture: Explorations in the Her meneutics of the Visual, ed.
Ian Heywood and Barry Sandywell (London: Routledge, 1999), 202. The Murdoch
citations are from The Sovereignty of Good (London: Ark, 1970), 32 and 34.
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Figure 4-1 . Illustration by Edward Edwards for Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental
Journey in The Works of Laurence Sterne (London: W.Strahan, T. Cadell,
G. Robinson, J. Murray., T. Evans, etc., 1780), 5: 220.
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Figure 4-2. Illustration by Edward Edwards for Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental
Journey in The Works of Laurence Sterne (London: W.Strahan, T. Cadell,
G. Robinson, J. Murray., T. Evans, etc., 1780), 5: 36.
TUK MAN OK FK.KUNG,
Figure 4-3 . Illustration by Louis Lafitte for Henry Mackenzie, The Man of
Feeling (Paris: Theophilus Barrois, 1807), 105.
Figure 4-4. Illustration (hand-tinted polychrome) by William Marshall Craig for
Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy
(London: T. Hurst; C. Chappie, 1803), 105.
Figure 4-5. Illustration (hand-tinted polychrome) by Richard Newton
for Laurence Sterne, Sterne's Sentimental Jour ney through France
and Italy (London: William Holland, 1795), plate 11.
Figure 4-6. Illustration by George Cruikshank for Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental
Journey through France and Italy (London: J. Cochrane, 1832).
Figure 4-7. Illustration by M. Archer for Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental
Journey through France and Italy (London: J. Creswick & Co.,
Figure 4-8. Illustration by Thomas Stothard for Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental
Journey through France and Italy (London: J. Good; E. and S.
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Figure 4-9. Illustration by Gerard Rene Le Villain for Laurence Sterne, A
Sentimental Journey through France and Italy (Paris: Ant. Aug.
Renouard, 1 802), plate 4 .
Figure 4-10. Illustration (hand-tinted polychrome) by Thomas Rowlandson for
Laurence Sterne, The Beauties of Sterne: Comprising his Humourous
and Descriptive Tales. Letters, etc. etc. (London: Thomas Tegg, 1808),
Figure 4-11. Illustration by John Thurston for Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental
Journey through France and Italy in The Works of Laurence
Sterne (London: J. Johnson, etc., 1808), 2: frontispiece.
Figure 4-12. Illustration (unsigned) for Henry Mackenzie, The Man of Feeling in
The English Comedie Humaine Home Library (New York: Century,
"POOR HAPLESS DAMSEL!": 1
VISUALIZATIONS OF THE MADWOMAN UNDER THE TREE,
Shortly after sharing in the sorrow of Maria at Moulines, Yorick attempts to vary his
emotional diet by plunging into the local festivities of the French countryside, but finds
himself hampered by the indelibility of her doleful image:
There was nothing from which I had painted out for myself so joyous a riot of the
affections, as in this journey in the vintage, through this part of France; but pressing
through this gate of sorrow to it, my sufferings had totally unfitted me: in every scene
of festivity I saw Maria in the back-ground of the piece, sitting pensive under her
poplar; and I had got almost to Lyons before I was able to cast a shade across her—
The haunting picture of Maria, in effect, acts as a counterweight to Yorick' s impulsive
desire for the joyous. The passage also reflexively exploits visual conventions and, in
Yorick' s confession of the impact of Maria's image of him, simultaneously testifies to the
impact of visual language on the reader. When this verbal visualization is conjoined with
pathos, the visual sense (evoked by words) acts as a conduit to the object of pity— a
technique Sterne brings to bear repeatedly and effectively throughout his work.
This is only one of several instances in Tristram Shandy and A Sentimental Journey
when Sterne describes the character of Maria using compelling visual language, creating a
strong sense of both her identity and location; this visuality augments the impact of her
depiction, a depiction that inspired many additional verbal and pictorial renderings for
more than a hundred years after its initial publication. This pictorial technique is especially
evident on Tristram's, and later Yorick's, arrival, when Maria is "framed" by elements in
the scene which serve to isolate and emphasize her as a lone figure who magnetically
attracts the attention, and consequently the sympathy, of the viewer/narrator (and thus of
the reader). Approaching Maria, Tristram is struck by her appearance, which he describes
simply, directly, and with earnest feeling:
We had got up by this time almost to the bank where Maria was sitting: she was in
a thin white jacket with her hair, all but two tresses, drawn up into a silk net, with a
few olive-leaves twisted a little fantastically on one side she was beautiful; and it
ever I felt the full force of an honest heart-ache, it was the moment I saw her — (TS
Maria's first scene in A Sentimental Journey, though portraying a changed character,
expands on the pathos of the initial description :
When we had got within half a league of Moulines, at a little opening in the road
leading to a thicket, I discovered poor Maria sitting under a poplar— she was sitting
with her elbow in her lap, and her head leaning on one side within her hand— a small
brook ran at the foot of the tree
She was dress'd in white, and much as my friend described her, except that her hair
hung loose which before was twisted within a silk net-She had, superadded likewise
to her jacket a pale green ribband which fell across her shoulder to the waist; at the
end of which hung her pipe. (ASJ 270.35-39, 271.42-46)
The elements of the later scene— the specific aspects of Maria's dress, in addition to the
tree and brook, were to become standard, recognizable features in the visual portrayals of
Maria, immediately identifying a seated young woman as Sterne's character. "A little
dog" (ASJ 271.47), Sylvio (whose name reinforces the rural atmosphere of the scene), has
replaced the goat to which Tristram compares himself; we are told, almost incidentally,
that "her goat had been as faithless as her lover" (ASJ 271.46) in the later version, altering
Maria's story to blame a fickle lover instead of a scheming local churchman for her woes;
compounded with the loss of her father, the goat's straying makes the character even more
rthy of a stranger's sympathy. Maria's emotional upheavals converge in her
relationship with her dog; she tells Sylvio, "Thou shalt not leave me," and Yorick discerns
that "she was thinking more of her father than of her lover or her little goat" (ASJ 271 .50-
5 1). As in the earlier passage in Tristram Shandy . Sterne's continuation of the Maria story
the later work uses visual elements to forge a bond between the character and the
Edward Mangin, an Anglican minister and accomplished amateur critic, was an early
observer of Sterne's visual cues and, in his discussion of A Sentimental Journey , verbally
paints a variant portrait of Maria himself. 3 He observes that Sterne's
portrait of the forlorn and gentle Maria is complete in all the lines and tints which
constitute grace and softness, her form, that of loveliness not impaired but rendered
more engaging by feebleness and sorrow, than the beauty of health and happiness can
ever be- her ornament, a riband of pale green: her attitude, sitting with her elbow in her
lap and her head leaning on one side within her hand: her hair streaming loose, and
tears trickling down her cheek. The scenic accompaniments are appropriate, and finely
in contrast: the season that of the vinta g e in the Bourbonnois, the finest district of
France; and the children of labour rejoicing in the prospect of plenty. (emphasis
Mangin describes Sterne's passage as if it were a painting in his mind's eye, a meticulously
imagined entity that supplements, or possibly completes, Sterne's pictorial language. In
the imagination of Mangin, and many other readers, Maria had coalesced into a multi-
dimensional entity from the suggestions of Sterne's words, conveying a physical and
spiritual presence beyond the text. Significantly, too, this description stresses the
attractiveness of Maria's melancholy over the "beauty of health and happiness," an
aesthetic and cultural perspective which had persistent appeal during the late-eighteenth
and early-nineteenth century.
Mangin was not alone in his enthusiasm for Maria, who had become, in the decades
after Sterne's death, the source of inspiration for derivative publications and ballads by
enthusiasts, as well as for dozens of different visual portrayals in paintings, prints, and
book illustrations, including decorations on teapots and vases. After the initial flush of
popularity of the sentimental "cult" of Maria, her image changed, emphasizing the
therapeutic companionship of Yorick; by the middle of the nineteenth century, however,
Maria was again portrayed alone, sometimes with darker undertones that stressed her
status as a social outsider.
In this chapter, I propose to investigate a selection of the wide range of images of
Maria from 1770 to 1884 as different "readings" of Sterne's text, each of which suggests a
changing cultural perspective toward the interaction between sentimentality and the
cultural idea of the feminine. Dozens of different visual depictions of Maria appeared
during this period, and while the basic elements of the composition— the figure of the
young woman, the tree, the dog, and the brook-were staple components of these
portrayals, the arrangement of these elements, along with the intermittent inclusion of
Yorick, vary to project distinctly different ideas of the character.
John Mullan suggests that the widespread interest in Sterne's Maria was due to a
fundamental visual appeal, the result of the character's ability physically to project delicate
feeling: "The body of the young woman, unresolved into matrimonial stability, becomes
the site of an encounter between sentiment and adversity, the space in which sensibility can
become visible." 5 Mullan' s observation is particularly pertinent when considering the
visualizations of Maria, which I will consider in three roughly defined chronological
groups: The Figure of Mourning (1770-1810), Maria Rescued (1790-1830), and Maria as
Other (1840-1884). These thematic headings are not inclusive and neatly self-contained,
however, and merely act as basic reference points from which further discussion can
The projection of Maria as a figure of mourning clearly originates in Sterne's text, not
only expressed overtly by the pathos of the narrative description, but also implied by the
sympathy expressed toward her by others. In Tristram Shandy, the postillion
accompanying Tristram relates the story of Maria, explaining that "but three years ago . . .
the sun did not shine upon so fair, so quick-witted and amiable a maid" (IS IX.24.782. 10-
1 1); her distresses, the result of the "intrigues of the local curate of the parish" (IS
IX.24.782. 13), have reduced her to a state of incommunicative madness. Sympathy for
the young woman, though localized, is universal: she is "the love and pity of all the
villages around us" (IS IX.24.782.9); and, hearing her song after hearing her story,
Tristram springs "out of the chaise to help her" (IS IX.24.783. 18-19).
In A Sentimental Journey , the grieving appearance of Maria's mother tells Yorick her
daughter's story "before she open'd her mouth" (ASJ 270.24). The tale saddens even Le
Fleur, "whose heart," Yorick tells us, "seem'd only to be tuned to joy" (ASJ 270.32).
Yorick's scene with the character is considerably longer, and creates a more profound
depth of feeling, than Tristram's. After hearing of her travels, Yorick declares to Maria
(at least in his thoughts) that
wast thou in my own land, where I have a cottage, I would take thee to it and shelter
thee: thou shouldst eat of my own bread, and drink of my own cup— I would be kind
to thy Sylvio— in all thy weaknesses and wanderings I would seek after thee and bring
thee back— when the sun went down I would say my prayers, and when I had done
thou shouldst play thy evening song upon thy pipe, nor would the incense of my
sacrifice be worse accepted for entering heaven along with that of a broken heart.
Yorick's powerful promise, while conditional, is nevertheless the most effusive statement
of sympathy possible: he offers to house and feed Maria, and look after her, suggesting
that the action would spontaneously culminate in a simultaneously mundane and ethereal
daily communion. The scriptural echoes in this passage, noted by Tom Keymer,
contribute further to building the idea of a spiritual moment, not only through the use of
similar language, but more implicitly by creating a link between the sacred and the
Maria's connection to the divine reinforces her saintly suffering and validates the
sentimental sacrament she offers. No one knows how Maria came by her pipe or the skill
to play it, but, the postillion explains, "we think that Heaven has assisted her in both" (IS
IX.24.782.20). In the later text, Maria tells Yorick she is unaware "how she had borne"
her wanderings and "how she had got supported" (ASJ 272. 1 8), and she asserts the
existence of divine sympathy with her explanation that "God tem pers the wind ... to the
shorn lamb" (ASJ 272. 19-20). 7 These claims of connection to the divine validate the
sympathetic reaction of her fellow characters and of her audience by further validating her
worthiness as an object of compassion. The almost religious experience of sympathy that
Maria inspires in Sterne's other characters-and, by extension, in the readers of her story
and even (or perhaps even more especially) in the viewers of her image— might be
expressed by Yorick with simple eloquence: "I am never so perfectly conscious of the
existence of a soul within me, as when I am entangled" in such "melancholy adventures"
(ASJ 270.20-22). The experience of sympathizing with Maria, it is implied, inspires a
greater realization of a spiritual self, suggesting the character as central to a type of
generalized religious awakening, with a strong resemblance to the brand of feeling
Christianity Sterne preached in the pulpit. 8 The popularity of Maria, both as a verbal and
visual entity, appears to be both a catalyst and a response to this sentimental fascination.
"Sterne's Maria," as she was called in numerous inscriptions, was a powerful
phenomenon of the late-eighteenth century, a character strongly connected to a thriving
cultural interest in sentimentalism. Along with the episodes of the Monk, the Sword, and
Le Fever's death from Tristram Shandy, Maria-almost always depicted with her dog
Sylvio as described in sentimental Journey-symbolized an era which relished tender
feelings inspired by pathos for its own sake and also as evidence of a humanity promoted
by the philosophers of the eighteenth century and by Christianity itself 9 Maria was among
the first subjects of the visual depiction of Sterne's work and quickly became a popular
image in the era, appearing in a painting by George Carter in 1774 and in another fourteen
paintings displayed at the Royal Academy and the Society of Artists before 1792; ten of
these were speedily published as mass-produced prints within a year of their exhibition. 10
Varied evidence of the broad phenomenon of Maria in England (and even the United
States) 11 includes additional texts intended to appeal to those who yearned for more of
Maria's story than Sterne provides in a total of roughly fourteen pages of Tristram Shandy
and A Sentimental Journey. Sterne's description of the character was published separately
within Th. Whole Storv Q jfjbS SflSag " f Maria of Mouli nes < 1793) and aS * twelve -P a § e
booklet (shared with the tale of the Monk) at the turn of the century; other writers
supplemented the original story with The Letters of Maria (1790) and Sterne's Maria; A
Pathetic Storv. With an Account of her Death, at the Cast le of Valerine (c. 1800).
These texts undoubtedly helped to foster the figure of "poor Maria" as an icon of
fashionable melancholy, enhancing the delicate titillation of the collections of 1770s and
1780s known as the Beauties of Sterne by elaborating on the plight of a character that the
sentimental movement found irresistible. In addition, the slow melodies of songs like
"Moulines Maria. A favourite ballad taken from Sterne" (c. 1785) by John Moulds (and
"sung by Miss George at Ranelagh" in 1790) and "I laugh I sing (Sterne's Maria)" ( c.
1800) by Victor Pelissier no doubt elicited a tear or two from their listeners.
The popularity of the figure of Maria seems to have been influenced by several cultural
factors. Most fundamentally, Maria appears to be another manifestation of her namesake,
an earthly sufferer of tragedies whose solitude further accentuates her pathos. The
similarity of Maria's tale to others in Western literature— Dido, Shakespeare's Ophelia,
and Rowe's Jane Shore— probably assisted in ensconcing the character as a cultural icon.
In the visual arts, Gordon notes that "an attractive young woman with a small dog
against a landscape background was an established formula of eighteenth-century
portraiture," 14 perhaps an outgrowth of seventeenth-century pastoral convention. Gordon
observes that when this formula is augmented by "an approved literary source," the
combination of "the pathos of unrequited love and the hint of tragedy" could, in
Reynolds's words, "exhibit the character of a species" and achieve the "great design of
speaking to the heart" 15 — a suggestion that holds particular meaning with Sterne's
character. It seems as if the variety of cultural factors— past myth, trends in academic
painting, the blend of romance and tragedy— came together to foster the popular image of
mourning Maria during her first visual incarnation in the late-eighteenth century.
Another reason for the continuing popular interest in Maria is her unique place in
Sterne's fiction as a character who appears in both of his major works of fiction (with the
possible exception of his autobiographical^ variable appearance as Yorick), altered in the
second instance by circumstances that took place in the interval; the continuation of the
character in this manner, which implies a continuing, independent existence beyond the
pages of the book, assists in the construction of an illusion of a convincing, "living,"
character who is merely documented by Sterne's text and not invented by it. (Cervantes
created a similar illusion by having characters in Part Two of Don£ujxote comment on
the wayward knight as the subject of, rather than only a character in, Part One.) The
impression of reality created by this sense of continuation may or may not have been
intended by Sterne, who may have only been interested in embellishing a previous passage
in his earlier work (as well as exploiting, perhaps, an increasing popular interest in
sentimental subjects), but the effect implies that Maria exists as an entity distinctly apart
from the verbal text. This extra-textual dimension of Maria's character undoubtedly
contributed to her cultural appeal, as well as to her popularity as a visual image, especially
as a pictorial representation independent of Sterne's text.
Much might be further explored about the cultural interest in the figure of Maria in this
period; it suffices here for me to note the obvious popularity of the character and resulting
significance of her visual depictions. Indeed, perhaps the most substantial evidence of
Maria's popular following is expressed by the widespread interest in her visual
representations, whether hanging in galleries, published as prints, or embellished on
household items. While the core of this study is to examine book illustrations (which by
definition are the type of visual portrayal most intimately mated with the text and which
therefore carry the most immediate interpretative implications), the early history of
Maria's visualization would not be complete without considering her many other pictorial
representations that form a foundational tradition for the visual portrayals of the figure.
The first visual rendering of the character is George Carter's 1774 painting, Miss
Carter as Maria , in which the artist arranges the figure in the pose of noble mourning [see
fig. 5-1] that would characterize the treatment of the scene over the next ten years. The
young woman sits under the poplar, her head slightly bent, supported by one hand; her
other hand rests in her lap, creating a geometrically balanced figure that projects quiet and
self-absorption. Maria finds a metaphor in the picturesque tree behind her, stricken but
surviving, on which she rests, and she is surrounded by dense foliage, enhancing the mood
of isolated melancholy. A small opening in the middle right reveals a distant village and
the long serpentine road leading from it, emphasizing Maria's removal from the source of
her distress as well as from any possible consolation. Her sole companion is Sylvio, who,
straining at his tether, is the only dynamic element in the picture; his depiction as a neatly
groomed French poodle might be at variance with Sterne's initial portrayal of Maria as a
peasant girl, but hints at the character's popularity among the middle and upper classes,
where a similar pet might be kept. Although Maria— modeled by the artist's daughter-
sits in what would become the standard pose of the figure for a generation, most future
treatments would alter Carter's perspective, depicting Maria instead in profile, a more
reticent approach that perhaps better accentuates the language of pathos expressed by the
position of her body.
At least fifteen paintings of Maria, usually depicted alone, followed over the next
twenty years, further entrenching her in the public's visual imagination. Commenting on
the two renditions of Maria painted by Joseph Wright of Derby in 1777 and 1781, Gordon
observes that Maria had "become an universal but decorous and elegant image of
melancholia." These depictions of Maria, Gordon continues, were "admired by an
audience to whom Sterne had taught the pleasure of feeling the pulse of their own
emotions by indulgence in the feelings of others, and who prided themselves on their
possession of a 'Heart of Sensibility.'" 16 Thus, Gordon suggests, painted renditions of
Maria served as emotional prompts to a public inclined toward delicate feeling,
supplementing as well as perpetuating a cultural vision of the character as melancholy and
Sternean scenes became the subject of many popular prints and print series during the
late-eighteenth century, many of which were engravings of Academy paintings. David
Alexander observes that prints had developed into the ideal medium for such material,
noting that with the expansion of the print market and the advent of large public
exhibitions of paintings, it "became possible for artists to paint more subject pictures"
rather than landscapes or portraits; 17 Sterne's works, in a sense, offered the right subject
matter at the right time for the print trade. In 1774, a year after the publication of four
engravings of comic scenes from Tristram Shandv by Henry William Bunbury, the first
print of Maria appeared, derived from the Carter painting described above. Although it is
difficult to ascertain the number of these prints that were sold, seven additional paintings
by other artists were engraved for the mass market over the following ten years (as well as
other renditions of the character possibly not yet documented), suggesting the widespread
popularity of prints of Maria.
Perhaps the most famous of these prints is a 1779 engraving of a painting by Angelica
Kauffmann [see fig. 5-2]. It is a side perspective— nearly a profile— of Maria seated: as in
Carter's painting, her tilted head rests on her hand, and her upper leg supports her elbow.
Maria's face is forlorn, though composed, her hair is in disarray, and one hand limply
holds Sylvio's tether; in contrast with his deeply self-involved mistress, the dog is alert,
perhaps listening for the footsteps of Yorick, or even of the viewer. Thick tree branches
hover over the young woman's head like dark clouds, an embodiment of her mood, and
the serene mountains, like those in a conventional landscape painting, rise in the distance.
Her encapsulation within an oval frame focuses the importance of her meaning more
distinctly by excluding superfluous background and thus intensifying attention on her lone
Kauffrnann's image is often credited as the formative depiction of Maria that was the
source of many derivations, although it only varies from Carter's in perspective and, very
slightly, in the position of the figure. Other versions that are clearly derived from
Kauffrnann's may have yet to appear, or perhaps previous discussion has been misguided.
The most frequently cited (and perhaps sole) reference to the popularity of Kauffrnann's
Maria is an oft-excerpted editor's note from Joseph Moser's 1809 essay, "Memoir of the
Late Angelica Kauffrnann, R.A.," which claims that
Numerous indeed were the copies which she made of the original design of that
picture. The prints from it were circulated all over Europe. In the elegant
manufactures of London, Birmingham, etc. it assumed an incalculable variety of forms
and dimensions, and was transferred to a variety of articles of all sorts and sizes, from
a watch-case to a tea-waiter.
Kauffrnann may indeed have greatly broadened the popularity of the image of Maria, but
the claim that it was singularly Kauffrnann's design that was broadly adopted is
problematic. There remains a strong possibility that the unnamed editor was referring to
the popular Wedgwood design, but a definite visual parallel between the two portrayals is
not evident [cf. fig. 5-3].
Indeed, the most prolific and persistent appearance of Sterne's character in the late-
eighteenth century was on several forms of Wedgwood stone-ware. Between 1780 and
1820, nearly identical designs of lone Maria in profile, Sylvio, and a tree (or alternatively,
a branchless trunk on shorter pieces) adorned at least a dozen different signature jasper-
ware pieces, including tea-canisters, sugar bowls, and tea pots— occasionally as
components of solitaires, tea sets designed for one [see fig. 5-3]. Reduced to the basic
elements of young woman, dog, and tree, the scene became a neo-classical motif that
blended easily with the range of themes portrayed on Wedgwood pieces such as "Sportive
Love," which features a woman in a loose gown playfully pinching a cherub's cheek.
Maria was occasionally paired with the Bourbonnois shepherd on Wedgwood pieces
for reasons of emotional contrast as well as aesthetic symmetry. The active and outgoing
shepherd is briefly described in A Sentimental Journey as "the roughest peasant who
traverses the bleakest mountains" and who "finds the lacerated lamb of another's flock"
( ASJ 279.21-22). The obvious parallel between the wounded lamb and Maria (who refers
to herself as a "shorn lamb" seven pages earlier [ASJ 272.20]) further suggests Yorick's
identification with the compassionate shepherd; like the peasant, he also feels "some
generous joys and generous cares beyond myself (ASJ 278.14-15) and tends to the
innocent young woman in her distress, a role that would be further emphasized in the next
generation of depictions of the scene.
Wedgwood historians, possibly unaware of the period's pre-existent tradition of
paintings and prints of the character, wholeheartedly credit Lady Templetown with
creating the popular design of Maria in 1787. Templetown's portrayal was originally
modeled from "beautiful cut Indian paper," the product of the hobby of pictorial paper-
cutting commonly used at the time for portrait silhouettes. 20 Robin Reilly suggests a
specific market for the stone-ware pieces in the late-eighteenth century, noting that Josiah
Wedgwood was "appealing predominantly to female taste," which was "an increasingly
important aspect of his business"; thus, she notes, it is "not surprising" that a woman artist
created the design. 21 Perhaps it was important for Wedgwood to credit an actual woman
(who might have represented a social model of sorts) instead of a painter associated with
the fine arts with the image to complete its appeal to its target audience. However, it is
difficult to imagine that Lady Templetown had not been exposed to reproductions of
artwork by Carter and Kauffmann prior to executing her own design.
The image of Maria also appeared as an isolated motif on jewelry medallions produced
by Wedgwood and set in cut steel by Josiah Wedgwood's friend and fellow manufacturing
innovator Matthew Boulton for bracelets, pins, earrings, and belt and shoe buckles. The
evident popularity of these pieces not only demonstrates a cultural interest in the depiction
of Maria, but inasmuch as they could be worn, a sense of personal identification with her
melancholia— a mood representative, perhaps, of an entire aesthetic. The popular
infatuation with the character is strongly suggested in the fashionable pose struck by the
Duchesse D'Orleans in a 1789 portrait by Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun; not only is the
noblewoman dressed in a loose, unstructured peasant costume, but she is also wearing a
Wedgwood belt buckle medallion of Maria [see fig. 5- 4]. The somber gaze of the
Duchesse, her face propped up on one hand while the other lies limp, the tasseled vision of
peasantry, all contribute to the suggestion that, during this period, Sterne's Maria was far
than a character in a book, but rather a regular and prominent resident in the popular
Considering the explosion of Maria's lone image in paintings and prints and on
Wedgwood in this period, it seems remarkable that contemporaneous illustrated editions
of both of Sterne's works either portray other scenes or depict the character accompanied
by Yorick. These editions, however, were few in number, and by the time illustrated
editions of Sterne began to appear more often at the turn of the century, the standard
visual depiction of the character had shifted dramatically.
A suggestion of this shift is seen in Thomas Stothard's 1792 portrayal [see fig. 5-5],
which is in many ways similar to the 1780 illustration of Maria and Yorick by Edward
Edwards [see fig. 4-1] discussed earlier. Stothard depicts Yorick at Maria's side, but
portrays the melancholy figure as self-isolated by her personal distress, in the same pose in
which she had frequently been depicted before. Even though she is now accompanied, her
body language radiates the same sad self-engagement as portraits of her unaccompanied;
and although appearing concerned, Yorick seems unable to penetrate the young woman's
isolated melancholia to establish the communion of fellow-feeling described by Sterne in
scenes from both his works. Yorick holds the handkerchief, but it carries no sentimental
significance without Maria's emotional engagement; even Sylvio is inactive, curled up to
the far left. However, although Maria might appear as lost in Stothard's illustration as she
was when depicted alone, Yorick' s presence does hint at some hope for the emotional
recovery of the character, as well as stressing the significance of the sympathizer in a
revised sentimental equation.
Although it might be tempting to overstate the role of Maria in late-eighteenth-century
society as, say, a mourning goddess of the Cult of Sensibility, we may safely say that she
was clearly a special (and still under-explored) figure in this time, a fictional character who
invited an emotional reaction to which many responded by giving Maria a life beyond the
pages of Sterne's text. Her ideological significance is perhaps best indicated by the fact
that her early depiction as an isolated figure neither disappeared nor continued indefinitely;
rather, it mutated into images in which a male figure rejoins her as part of the scene.
Rather than representing a static, unchanging figure, she evolved; and her evolution as a
cultural figure is mirrored by this evolution of her image.
After the initial predominance of Maria's portrayal in paintings and prints, which most
often depicted the solitary seated figure, book illustrations began to increasingly replace
prints— and, it seems, the paintings that inspired them— as the primary means of visually
projecting the character. Paintings of the single figure continued, but the number
transferred to prints seems to have dwindled as the initial flush of interest in Maria as a
lonely and distressed figure waned. While the original posing of the figure emphasized the
character's exquisite delicacy, her undeserved distress, and more subtly, her resilience,
these characteristics helped pave the way for the next phase of Maria's visual depiction,
where she is portrayed as a subject worthy of charitable sympathy and active redemption.
The portrayal of Maria as a figure worthy of sympathy by a feeling individual— a
figure who eventually becomes Maria Rescued— is particularly expressed by Yorick's
response to her tears:
I sat down close by her; and Maria let me wipe them away as they fell with my
handkerchief —I then steep'd it in my own— and then in hers— and then in mine— and
then I wip'd hers again— and as I did it, I felt such undescribable emotions within me,
as I am sure could not be accounted for from any combinations of matter and motion.
Yorick's reaction to this experience with Maria reiterates and deepens the spiritual
connection between the sympathetic response and an enhanced sense of self: he
comments, "I am positive I have a soul; nor can all the books with which materialists have
pester'd the world ever convince me of the contrary" (ASJ 271.59-61). The link between
sympathy and self-realization frames the scene as the site of personal discovery for Yorick
(and possibly Sterne's readers), making the image of Maria and the story it connotes a
culturally acknowledged emotional touchstone. Ellis observes that at this time "moralists
sought to instruct young women how to learn or reinforce a proper, sincere and virtuous
sensibility"; 23 just as the illustrations of melancholy Maria were, in effect, visual guides for
the cultivation of what was seen as a sensitive and attractive persona, the subsequent
mode of the character's depiction implies a didactic message, as well.
The next phase in the portrayal of Maria viewed the character not as an example or
epitome of melancholy feeling, but as a figure rescued from her distress through the active
interest of a sympathizer. Having hinted at her past tragedies, Yorick sees that he had
touch' d upon the string on which hung all her sorrows— she look'd with
wistful disorder for some time in my face; and then, without saying any
thing, took her pipe, and play'd her service to the Virgin— The string I had
touch' d ceased to vibrate — in a moment or two Maria returned to her self-
let her pipe fall — and rose up.
And where art you going, Maria? said I. — She said to Moulines. — Let
us go, said I, together. — Maria put her arm within mine, and lengthening
the string, to let the dog follow — in that order we entered Moulines. ( ASJ
Yorick responds to Maria's distress by attempting to ease it, offering himself as a physical
support that mirrors his emotional role as sympathizer. Depictions of Maria from 1790 to
1820 (which usually took the form of book illustrations) portray the very conclusion of
this passage, and thus emphasize Maria as a figure who is more an object of sympathy and
sentiment than a symbol of solitude and sadness.
Although the depiction of Maria in paintings and prints before 1790 overwhelmingly
featured her alone in a landscape, a few toward the end of the period began to introduce
Yorick as an actively sympathetic figure into their compositions. For example, a 1782
painting by Kauffmann, The Handkerchief- Moulines , emphasizes the tear-soaked symbol
of fellow-feeling in the center of the image, a rather large handkerchief held limply on one
end by a forlorn Maria and firmly on the other end by a concerned and inquisitive Yorick
[see fig. 5-6]. The handkerchief, which Yorick uses to alternatively wipe away Maria's
tears and his own, is the symbol of the common bond of delicate feeling between the
characters, and is analogous to the illustration itself as a sentimental bridge between
sufferer and sympathizer (or viewer). Kauffmann' s image, like Stothard's 1792
illustration, is an embellishment of the motif of solitary Maria, suggesting a social model
for a practical reaction to a compassionate impulse toward the distressed.
Two years later, James Northcote recomposed the depiction of Maria, portraying her
in a painting with her arm though Yorick' s outside the town gate of Moulines [see fig. 5-
7]. Here Maria is clearly emerging from her solitary despair both physically and
emotionally; she is on the brink of social engagement with Yorick, looking toward, if not
directly at, his face, with only a suggestion of melancholy reluctance in her expression and
pose. Yorick, extending his other arm towards the town through an archway, smiles in
her direction with what might be seen as a hint of humor, or even lewdness, in his
expression. Although Yorick is pictured as a rescuer in this painting, Northcote appears
also to have incorporated the often-reproduced image of Sterne-as-Yorick into his work;
Sterne's reputation as a humorist (evidenced by the publication of two jest-books in the
1780s) suggests Yorick's role as convivial socialite in contrast to the sentimental role
played in Stothard's illustration and Kauffmann's painting of the pair.
The numerous book illustrations of Maria between 1790 and 1820 almost exclusively
depict a similar scene with Yorick, though usually in a more rural setting. The unsigned
frontispiece from the anonymously authored sequel Sterne's Maria published around 1800
[see fig. 5-8] features the couple strolling gracefully down a forest path surrounded by
luxuriant and buoyant foliage. Maria is standing even straighter than her depiction in the
Northcote portrayal, the tilt of her head the only remaining bodily sign of her distress;
Yorick seems engaged in conversation with her, gesturing with his right hand. The scene,
in fact, seems reminiscent of Adam and Eve in the garden, with the idealized flora framing,
and seeming to welcome and applaud, the couple. If the message of the picture was not
clear enough, the legend recalls the restorative moment of contact from Sterne's text,
when "Maria put her Arm within mine . . . "; the inscribed tablet radiates decorative lines
that serve to further focus attention on its text and suggest its connection with a cosmic
order. Yorick seems subsumed by the gentle landscape, realigning the aggressive and
assertive influence of man— here tempered by compassion— with a passive, feminized idea
A variation of the theme of the rescue of Maria can be seen in one of a series of
aquatint prints by I. H. Clark in 1820 [see fig. 5-9]. Here Yorick, dressed as an early
nineteenth-century clergyman and dapper with a stylish hat and a walking stick under his
arm, strolls with a poised, well-dressed and carefully coifed Maria through a manicured
garden. The sophistication that replaces the innocence evident in earlier depictions is
further reinforced by the large, urban structures that loom in the background to the left
and Sylvio's fancy collar and careful grooming. The many colors used in this rendition—
which was included in a collection titled Humourous Illustrations to the Works of
Sterne— increase the rich and lush quality of the moment, one that can be seen less as an
instance of pathos and sentimental communion and more as a scene of middle-class
The same basic configuration of Yorick leading Maria first appeared in paintings (later
engraved as prints) in the late 1780s, and became the dominant mode of book illustration
of Maria from 1790 to 1820. Rendered by seven different artists for new editions in this
period (two additional illustrations depict the pair seated), 24 the image of Yorick rescuing
Maria was reproduced with only minor stylistic variation, repeating again and again its
message of masculine compassion and strength as a cure for feminine distress, and
ultimately the idea of restorative companionship. These illustrations, then, might be seen
as pictorial suggestions of companionship and marriage as practical prescriptions for
emotionally distraught young women — the same women who, perhaps, had been
emotionally sensitized by their identification with the lonely melancholia of the abandoned
Maria as represented in the first generation of visualizations of the character. The
proliferation of this new Maria, published in so short a period, in fact, resembles a type of
Noting that the "most popular prescription" for female hysteria at the time was
marriage, John Mullan observes that "images of marriage as the resolving institution of a
moral and material economy [existed] in many different kinds of writing throughout the
eighteenth century." Mullan cites the 1771 statement by the physician John Ball that if the
hysteric female "be single and of a proper age, the advice of Hippocrates should be
followed, who wisely says, that a woman's best remedy is to marry, and be ar children"
[emphasis Ball's]. 25 Similarly, the popular 1798 text A Physical View of Man and
Woman, in a State of Marriage reiterates the concept in its relation of a case of a grieving
young widow who suddenly had become subject to epileptic fits and who eventually
"found her 'cure' in the arms of a second vigorous husband."
While suggesting that male companionship can help heal a range of female afflictions,
the author of A Physical View lingers on one type of sufferer who would particularly
benefit from male companionship, specifically a
young woman ... her head dolorous, her respiration interrupted, every moment, will
only permit her, with pain, to articulate some words, which she pronounces with a
feeble, tremulous, and obstructed voice ... her dull eyes, her gloomy and drooping
aspect, excite the compassion of every beholder; she seems no longer connected with
the world, and all in Nature is indifferent to her eyes, excepting the lover for whom her
heart still conserves some activity.
This description could easily be a representation of Sterne's Maria, essentially mirroring,
as it does, the physical appearance and behavior which triggers Yorick's (and the reader's)
compassion. A Physical View , of course, was supposedly written to document the
conditions of actual humans and not fictional characters, but clearly this description —
which lists symptoms of melancholia, perhaps fashionable among middle- and upper-class
women — may easily have been inspired jointly by such eighteenth-century literary
characters as Sterne's Maria and Goethe's Lotte (who, not coincidentally, was also
depicted as a mournful figure on Wedgwood jasper-ware, though for a briefer period than
Maria). 28 The general prescription of A Physical View that "marriage may be
recommended as the most efficacious means to obtain the cure of many diseases" 29 may be
reflected in the pervasive image of Maria and Yorick during the period, intended as a
suggestion to remedy real-life female melancholia with male companionship.
Although these scenes of Yorick sitting with, or leading, Maria overwhelmingly stress
human suffering and a sympathetic response, some artists, like Northcote, suggest in their
portrayals a less generous motive on the part of the parson, fostered, perhaps, by Sterne's
reputation as an admirer of women. Gordon observes that those painters who depicted
two-character scenes were often "well aware of the potential for scenes of flirtatious
intrigue derived from Sterne's novels where the licentious excitement was perhaps even
heightened by the presence in these suggestive situations of a recognisable and famous
clergyman" (BPS 79). These erotic connotations seem, however, to be more revealing of
the artists' attitude toward Sterne than the text of the scene itself; nevertheless, the
possible connection between increasing rumors about Sterne's philandering and pictures of
Yorick accompanying an attractive young woman may have made the once-popular image
of the pair seem less appealing as the century progressed. Ellis, noting the recurrent
literary motif of the moral fall of women such as Emily Atkins in The Man of Feeling,
states that there was a perception that a "stimulated passion for romantic love" could "lead
to the weakening of the prophylactic power of innocence." 30 Thus, there perhaps existed
a broader basis than simply the suspicion of Yorick' s (or Sterne's) concupiscence that
eventually led to a distaste for the subject of Yorick escorting Maria.
Both of Sterne's scenes of Maria that prompted delicate feeling were also capable
(almost perversely) of creating mirth. As Tom Keymer notes, "it is as though the book
might be consumed in different ways by different categories of reader: the naive may read
it as pure feeling, productive of tears; the sophisticated may read it as pure irony,
productive rather of laughter" 31 Keymer may be simplifying Sterne's audience somewhat,
but there are elements in the scene that can easily be understood as bawdy, and Keymer
cites previous critics (including Sterne's contemporaries) who recognize this characteristic
as well. Analyzing Sterne's allusions to sexuality in his depictions of Maria, Keymer
makes a strong case for the satirical aspects of the scene as well as asserting the possibility
that Sterne was parodying Andrew Marvell's "The Nymph Complaining for the Death of
Her Faun." 32 Keymer broadly describes Sterne's text as one in which "sentiment is both
practiced and parodied, indulged and undermined" (13). A predominantly satirical attitude
towards Maria's scenes, however, remains more or less unvisualized in the first hundred
years of their representation, suggesting, perhaps, the increasing use of visual renderings
for pathetic, rather than comic, subjects.
After the intense popularity that visual representations of Maria — either sitting in
profile or walking with Yorick— enjoyed from 1770 to 1820, a period of less frequent, and
simultaneously more varied, portrayals of the character ensued. One example, an unsigned
book illustration [see fig. 5-10] from a 1827 edition of A Sentimen tal Journey, features
Maria and Yorick seated under the tree; Maria is shown in profile, a close variation of the
figure of mourning popularized fifty years earlier. Yorick, however, is physically
distanced from Maria and does not seem to be particularly concerned with her distress.
The dilution of sentimental communion may, in part, be the result of a less refined
illustrative technique in this example, but the overall effect of the portrayal is a denial of
the delicate feeling depicted almost exclusively in conjunction with the scene for fifty
years. Two other illustrations of Maria published during the late 1820s to the early
1830s 33 also similarly depict Maria and Yorick physically and spiritually separated from
each other, suggesting a less sympathetic approach toward the emotionally distraught, one
that isolates the victim rather than offering her restoration to society.
Another variation in the profuse tradition of visual depictions of the character is
manifested in an 1833 print, after a painting by John Doyle, entitled A Study for Sterne's
Maria . In spite of the subject's obvious connection to Sterne's text, the artist decided to
change her dog Sylvio into a lamb, "as more emblamatical [sic] of innocence." 3 The
revision of Maria's iconic character (which had always been indicated by the presence of
her pipe and her dog— or, more rarely, her goat) seems to indicate a cultural desire to find
a new role for Maria— here as a symbol of innocence rather than what might have become
a less fashionable figure of mourning or distress.
No illustrations of Maria between 1840 and 1884— and she appears in five out of six
illustrated editions in this period— depict her in the previous popular styles of either a
virtuous solitary mourner or an accompanied walking figure. The usually unsympathetic
renderings of the character in this period suggest altered attitudes toward Sterne, the
cultural notion of sentiment, and possibly toward femininity in general. In at least one
visual portrayal, the aura of melancholy is diminished considerably; in others, continuing
an earlier trend, Maria's physical and emotional separation from Yorick became more
pronounced, and, partially as a result, the character is pictured less as a subject of
compassion and more as a hopeless madwoman, whose unproductive and anti-domestic
femininity might have been seen as a threat to a culture that was attempting to cultivate
opposing values in its young women.
A distinct shift in the cultural attitude toward Sterne can be detected in H. D. Traill's
1882 study of the author. Traill emphasizes the pictorial effectiveness of the text, noting
that Maria's figure is "tenderly drawn" and that "the accessories of the picture— her goat,
her dog, her pipe, her song to the Virgin— though a little theatrical perhaps, are skilfully
touched in," 35 but he resents the sympathetic figure of Yorick (and by extension, Sterne),
observing that "the artist has no business within the frame of the picture, and his intrusion
into it has spoilt it" (159). Echoing Thackeray's condemnation of Sterne, Traill seems
particularly sensitive to what he sees as Sterne's technique of manipulating his readers into
a sentimental response, commenting that "we are taken straight into Maria's presence, and
bidden to look at and pity the unhappy maiden as described by the Traveller who met her"
(159; emphasis Thackeray's). Thus, in addition to what might be taken as a loss of
interest in the value of delicate feeling for its own sake— which Maria seems to have
symbolized until almost mid-century— public attitude toward the character might have
changed owing to increased suspicions about Sterne's emotionally exploitative techniques,
Just as passages addressing Yorick' s active sympathy provided a foundation for the
ideas of the mournful or rescued Maria, a specific moment in Sterne's text seems to
inspire the images of the character as Other— a figure either angelic or socially
estranged — in the mid-nineteenth century. As Yorick is about to leave Moulines, he stops
"to take my last look and last farewel of Maria" in the marketplace, and observes that
"Maria, tho' not tall, was nevertheless of the first order of fine forms — affliction had
touch' d her looks with something that was scarce earthly — still she was feminine — and so
much was there about her of all that the heart wishes, or the eye looks for in woman ..."
(ASJ 275.3-7). A strange, and perhaps uniquely Sternean, balance is struck in this
passage: Maria is described as being somehow otherworldly (something about "her looks"
is "scarce earthly"), yet she is still "feminine" to the point of representing corporeal desire
("all that the heart wishes, or the eye looks for . . . "). This balance between the unreal
and the real, the abstract and the concrete, is conveyed differently in visual portrayals in
this period, accentuating as well the moral qualities suggesting either positive or negative
aspects of the spiritualized. Instead of being a model of delicate feeling or a subject of
charity, these illustrations view Maria as a figure of superlative femininity, capable of
conveying either a blessing or a curse.
The angelic Maria is suggested in a 1854 title page depiction [see fig. 5-11] that is,
intriguingly, the only illustration in a single-volume edition of Sterne's Works (excepting a
frontispiece derived from Reynolds's portrait of the author). Here Maria is shown
standing on a river bank, gazing downward with a mild expression; her endearing gesture
of a finger on a lip implies minor distraction, suggesting the state of being lost in thought.
She is dressed in middle-class attire, in a cape, bodice, pleated dress, and neat shoes; her
ribbon and pipe, symbols of her illness, are absent. By her dress and attitude, Maria more
closely resembles a young, middle-class Englishwoman who temporarily lost her way
while walking her dog than a French peasant driven mad by love and death.
A dark hollow in the bowed trees behind her forms an enclosing cartouche, presenting
the figure like a statue in a niche while also hinting at the shape of heavenly wings. This
setting combines with the feathered edges of the rough borders of the image to intensely
centralize Maria within the composition. The still waters of the "brook" near her feet
reinforce the calm serenity of this depiction; they might even reflect the image that the
character stands contemplating in narcissistic fashion. As in the early seated portrayals of
Maria, Sylvio sits at her feet, looking up at her.
Maria's lack of distress is further suggested here by her strong posture, upright
position, and neat dress. The heavy air of melancholy clearly evident in earlier pictures of
solitary Maria is nearly absent, possibly suppressed here by a Victorian sense of stoicism.
This image appears to be an updated version of the seated character in mourning, possibly
a mid-nineteenth-century model of proper behavior for young women projecting
benevolence and emotional restraint.
The Victorian idea of a woman's role as dutiful repository of emotional and spiritual
strength in the home was advanced, both implicitly and explicitly, in several texts of the
day. One blatant representative of this widespread cultural perspective was Sarah
Stickney Ellis, whose The Women of England ran to twenty-one editions within a few
years. 36 Addressing a large and ambitious female middle class (those belonging to "that
great mass of the population of England which is connected with trade and
manufactures" 37 ), Ellis seeks to emphasize that "the home comforts, and fireside virtues"
(10) are desirable — even necessary — feminine qualities; martyr-like self-sacrifice to the
home is expected, and women must accustom themselves to "the practice of personal
exertion in the way of promoting general happiness" (11). Throughout her book, Ellis
promotes the model of an ideal woman who is educated but submissive to male authority
and who is expected to dutifully tend the hearth while her husband focuses on financial
and political interests.
This ideal bode ill for the figure of Maria, who had represented an impractical and
unseemly indulgence in emotion. In her guide, Ellis specifically targets "the sickly
sensibilities, the feeble frames, and the useless habits of the rising generation" (11), finding
in some young women "an eagerness to escape from every thing like practical and
individual duty" (12). Although Ellis's position ultimately has broad social ramifications
(she exclaims at one point: "You have deep responsibilities ... a nation's moral wealth is
in your keeping" ), she seems most urgently distressed by the possibility of squandered
affections that could have been directed elsewhere:
There may exist great sympathy, kindness, and benevolence of feeling, without the
power of bringing any of these emotions into exercise for the benefit of others. They
exist as emotions only .... [and] are permitted to die away, fruitless and
unproductive, in the breast where they ought to have operated as a blessing and a
means of happiness to others. (17)
This is a specific directive for the suppression of self-indulgent feelings; the traditional
depiction of Maria as listless and self-absorbed would seem to lose general favor in this
cultural climate, and, worse yet, might provide a bad example to young female readers.
Thus in this unsigned 1854 illustration, Maria's cultural momentum— the continued
interest in the character, after the period of its intense popularity— seems to have
contributed to the remodeling of her image in the contemporaneously commendable (but
barely recognizable) mold of domestic angel.
Women who did not fit into this ideal of emotional durability (or, from another
perspective, self-sacrifice) and who indulged themselves in their emotions could be
marginalized as mad or even monstrous — a perspective that seems to have greatly
influenced Maria's depictions in the five other book illustrations published between 1840
to 1884. Indeed, these less positive portrayals outnumber the angelic illustrations of the
character, hinting at a strong social tendency to isolate self-indulgent sentimentalism, as
well as demonstrating the difficulty of adapting a character who had represented the very
quintessence of delicate feeling a half-century before to the new model of ideal
Maurice Leloir— who produced more than two hundred drawings of A Sentimental
Journey that adorned more than a half-dozen English-language editions in the 1880s and
beyond— emphasizes the tragic depth of Maria's madness, portraying a character utterly
lost to the world [see fig. 5-12]. 38 Although his work must be considered a French
approach toward Sterne, its welcome among English readers suggests a strong cultural
affirmation of his perspective. Leloir pictures Maria sitting casually, almost as if she had
awkwardly landed in her position; her hair is unkempt, and one hand rests on the back of
Sylvio's neck, whose head, bearing a doleful expression, rests affectionately on her upper
The most compelling feature of the image is Maria's gaze. She is utterly
uncommunicative with everything around her, including Sylvio, and is completely engaged
in her own thoughts. Yorick, sitting cross-legged, holds a handkerchief which, ignored by
Maria, is no longer the central sentimental symbol of the scene as it had been in Edwards's
depiction [see fig. 4-1], but rather an incidental element; the scene, in fact, portrays Yorick
as a well-meaning but ineffective sympathizer who has objectified Maria instead of
bonding with her. The tamed rural setting, featuring a gentle slope covered with only
short vegetation, several large trees, and a sturdy, well-maintained fence, imparts a more
artificial atmosphere than previous depictions of the scene, suggesting a reflection of the
restrained (as opposed to the previously unabashedly spontaneous) nature of compassion
in Yorick' s breast. Instead of depicting a meeting of sensibilities, Leloir' s illustration
cynically seems to stress the wide gulf that separates the two characters.
At least two other series of illustrations 39 from this period similarly stress Maria's
madness, presenting a distinct variation of late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth-century
images of Maria and Yorick. In addition to book illustrations, at least one painting of the
character in this period, Stern's Maria [sic] (1768) by W. P. Frith, also emphasizes Maria's
mental disorder [see fig. 5-13]. 40 Frith's portrayal suggests a quality of unsettling
quietness, as well as a permanence, to Maria's madness. The character's gaze is subtly
askew, directed at something to the right instead of at the viewer, to whom her body is
turned; she clutches her pipe in her hand, as if she has just finished playing her
mysteriously inspired "service to the Virgin." Her hair, in disarray, seems to be tossed by
the wind, but the trees behind her are strangely still. Dressed plainly, she is framed by
these two trees, one thriving and one half-dead; a miniaturized village— similar to the one
in Carter's painting [cf fig. 5-1]— is tucked away insignificantly to the side, the tiny
representation of "reality" in Maria's world.
Frith's Maria is accompanied by her goat, one of several portrayals in this period that
depicts the earlier mention of the scene in Tristram Shandv . 36 In this rendering, Maria,
sunk into the depths of distress, is barely aware of her pet, who looks off in a different
direction, as if already planning his escape. Her obliviousness to the presence of the
viewer reflects an uncertain and disturbing quality to her madness and hints at a greater
potential for destabilization and erratic behavior than portrayed in earlier visualizations of
The several mid-century illustrations and Frith's painting all portray Maria as
irretrievably lost in her madness, an object of redoubled pity owing to the trials she has
suffered and her inability to cope with them, and represent a marked contrast with the
depictions of a durable and melancholic character prominent fifty years earlier that inspired
a cult of admirers. The lost, "otherworldly" quality of madness shown in these Victorian
images, while emphasizing an element already present in Sterne's work, might also be seen
as a warning to young women of the mid-nineteenth century of the effects of
overindulgence in personal emotion. By advertising a negative model of feeling, these
illustrations, in effect, act as further affirmation of the prevalence of the cultural attitude
perpetuated by Sarah Stickney Ellis; these mid-to-late-nineteenth-century representations
of Maria suggest a view that women who deny their role as providers of spiritual strength
to others are doomed to physical and spiritual exile on the fringes of society.
These portrayals of Maria as clearly (and somewhat frighteningly) deranged also
reflect a contemporaneous cultural interest in the story of another unfortunate young
woman, Ophelia, who, like Maria decades before, spawned a following of her own in the
second half of the nineteenth century. Bran Dijkstra credits Ophelia's popularity— she
was the subject of many paintings in this period and a cosmetics line was named for her —
to the cultural appeal of the idea of a "love-crazed self-sacrificial woman." 42 The parallels
between the lost loves, the ensuing loss of senses, and even the association with water
shared by the two characters suggest their joint contribution to a cultural idea that
projected the dangers of intense emotions. Arthur Hughes's 1852 portrait of
Shakespeare's character [see fig. 5-14], in fact, could been seen as representing Maria
instead: the rural setting and proximity to water, and above all, the figure's physical and
emotional isolation from society, create a portrait of feminine hypersensitivity which
further suggests the replacement of the cult of delicate feeling with a cautionary awareness
of the dangers of emotional sensitivity.
Sterne's description of the mysterious appearance of Maria's pipe and the
simultaneous onset of her musical ability hints at the last trend in the character's visual
depiction in this period. Tristram is first attracted to the character by her music ("the
sweetest notes I ever heard" [IS IX.24.781.25]), which leads to a visual unveiling of
Maria by the postillion, who leans "his body on one side to let me see her, for he was in a
line betwixt us" (IS IX.24.781 .28-82. 1). While the music, speaking in a way Maria could
not with words, may have provided a basis for sentimental communion between the
characters (and was frequently illustrated as such in the late-eighteenth and early-
nineteenth centuries), at least two illustrations hint that Maria's song has become more
suspect by the mid-nineteenth century, perhaps being viewed as a means of beckoning
passers-by to share in her scene of self-pity and dissipation. This perspective casts Maria
in the seemingly unlikely role of mythological siren, who lures healthy and productive
people (especially men) to share in her sentimental spell, transforming them from
productive members of society into anti-social and self-indulgent connoisseurs of delicate
feeling. Thus the "broken and irregular steps" with which Tristram walks "softly to his
chaise" (T_S IX.24.784. 16-17) may have been seen as suggesting the potentially
destabilizing effect of Maria on her future auditors — or readers.
After the initial engaging song that gives Tristram pause, Maria plays a "cadence so
melancholy, so tender and querulous" that he "sprung out of the chaise to help her, and
found myself sitting betwixt her and her goat before I relapsed from my enthusiasm" (IS
IX.24.783.17-20). 43 This reaction, with the spiritual connotations of the eighteenth-
century idea of enthusiasm, 44 suggests the compelling nature of the supernaturally inspired
music, creating another link between Sterne's character and a siren.
While the 1848 portrayal of Maria by Darley does not depict the character playing
music, it does feature her pipe prominently by her side; in this illustration, she sits almost
upright, her head tilted slightly, with her hands resting in her lap [see fig. 5-15]. Her eyes
closed, her face half in shadow, she appears passive, and yet her figure radiates an unusual
energy. Her long hair flows loosely and erratically, merging with the vaguely defined
vegetation behind her. A frail foot— hardly suitable for walking— emerges from
underneath a loose, simple gown, and the ribbon from her pipe coils serpentine in her lap.
Everything around Maria is oddly still and fixed, as if enchanted; even the usually
vigorous Sylvio is statue-like, almost merging with the background. A waterfall on the
left and a broken branch are partially hidden in shadow. There is a suggestion here of
magical languor, and the figure of Maria, influenced by a Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic, is fluid,
full of sinuous curves; the surreal quality of the picture is enhanced further by Maria's
closed eyes. Some elements hint at darker connotations: the diamond design on Maria's
thigh resembles fish scales, a visual cue reiterated by the character's tapering lower half
and association with water. In addition to these details, the desolate scenery and soporific
Sylvio add a certain insidious quality to Maria's portrayal which suggests her role as siren,
a perspective echoed in an 1853 illustration as well. 4
Perhaps this perspective toward Maria coincides with another cultural trend in the last
half of the nineteenth century. Dijkstra, noting that writers such as Tennyson, Rossetti,
and Baudelaire "grappled with sirens, mermaids, and their deadly desires" (266), records a
widespread interest in these subjects for paintings, adding that sirens "could be disguised
as water sprites, mountain sprites, or Loreleis" (261) — a connotation that could
potentially lend a sinister air to the traditional depiction of Maria near a brook. Maria may
have been seen to represent a threat of spiritual seduction into feelings of indulgent pity
and self-pity, which marked a certain cultural fear for Victorian men and women alike. At
any rate, it is a portrayal of Maria that is clearly different from the unabashed invitation to
sympathy and support in the early periods I have outlined.
The change in emphasis in Maria's visual depictions from a character worthy of rescue
to a figure of lost madwoman or siren seems to signal a decisive split with the idea of
pathetic sentiment she had formerly represented; the idea of reveling in delicate emotion,
an act which the character symbolized to many admirers of sentiment, may have been seen
by mid-century as succumbing to a type of weakness that was not in keeping with a
revised view of the feminine (or masculine, for that matter). 46 In this sense, Maria became
an anti-model, an example of how not to react, and thus was predominantly rendered in
less admirable forms; to the Victorians, Maria may have represented a model of poor
behavior under duress, as well as what may have been seen as a manifestation of an
unfortunate female tendency toward irrationality.
The iconic momentum of Maria slowed considerably through the early-twentieth
century. Although Maria still appeared in Sterne's work during the resurgence of interest
in the author in the 1920s and 1930s, illustrations of the character were less frequent and
were visualized with less consistency than they previously had been. Yet the image of
Maria stubbornly persisted in the form of decoration on Wedgewood stone-ware: vases
adorned with a design very similar to the 1780 original were produced by Wedgwood
through the early 1980s. 48 By the end of the twentieth century, however, Maria had
become more a generic visual symbol than a literary character to most of the English-
speaking world, eventually evolving into a visual embodiment of melancholy unrelated to a
specific textual or cultural reference.
The examination of visual portrayals of Maria from 1770 to 1884 reveals distinct
trends in the depiction of the character that can be considered as visual indicators of shifts
in cultural ideas regarding sentimentality and femininity. Over slightly more than one
hundred years, Maria acts as a symbol of delicate feeling that was alternatively portrayed
as being heroic, inspiring sympathetic compassion, or acting as a negative model of
dangerous emotional sensitivity. Growing beyond an existence as a character from
Sterne's works, Maria became a screen on which society projected changing cultural
attitudes toward sentimentality. Gradually, through the nineteenth century, interest in the
character (though not in Sterne) dwindled, and visual portrayals of Maria were replaced in
popularity by pictorial reproductions of Uncle Toby adapted from Charles Robert Leslie's
1829 painting, which, like images of Maria, were also reproduced in the form of prints as
well as on pot lids and other household items. 49 By the end of the century, Toby had
become the dominant subject in illustrated editions of Tristram Shandy, as well.
Leslie's image, seen here in the form of the popular Lumb Stocks engraving [see fig.
5-16], depicts the Widow Wadman's "attack" on Toby's sentry-box. Here Mrs. Wadman
has "edged herself close" (IS IX.24.705.21) to Toby, beseeching him to look into her eye
for a non-existent mote. Tristram describes his uncle's futile search, "with twice the good
nature that ever Gallileo look'd for a spot in the sun" (IS IX.24.706.21), which results
instead in his discovery of "one lambent delicious fire, furtively shooting out from every
part" of an eye that "undoes" him (IS IX.24.707.5-7). Given the modesty of the
character in Sterne's text, Toby ironically dominates Leslie's composition, blocking Mrs.
Wadman with one knee, while she appears submissive and physically overwhelmed in the
small space. The portrayal of Toby, however, with his steadfast focus on the bewitching
eye, betrays the character's vulnerabilities, in the sincerity of his gaze and the openness of
his bodily expression. The tempting Wadman is described in the text as a type of siren,
but this depiction, stressing her cramped position and intimate offering, instead suggests
her role as passive supplicant.
In contrast to Maria, Toby represented a different type of sentiment to Victorian
tastes, one that actively attends to external objects of compassion, manifest in the tale of
Le Fever (which was excerpted in the second half of the nineteenth century), 51 as well as
in the stories of the fly and Walter's lament; as such, Toby had taken on the benevolent
role assumed by Tristram/Yorick and the Bourbonnois shepherd in earlier visualizations.
Significantly, the date of Leslie's original painting— 1831— roughly coincides with a
turning point in the popular portrayal of Maria, who at this time was being illustrated less
frequently and becoming more an object of restrained pity and fear than earnest sympathy.
I would suggest that the cultural focus shifted from the icon of Maria to that of Toby,
whose active attributes were better suited to ambitious Victorian society; both characters,
however, evolving into entities beyond Sterne's text, became remarkable types of cultural
phenomena in their respective eras, emblems of emotional sensitivity that visually
projected changing social ideas about the expression of sentiment.
2. Other examples of visualized pathos in Sterne's work are especially prominent in
his sermons, where they similarly function to prompt the sympathy of the audience.
Additional discussion of the visual imperative can be found in Chapter 1, 14-15.
3. As mentioned earlier, Mangin was probably inspired by comments in the Earl of
Clonmell's personally annotated copy of A Sentimental Journey that reflect at length on
the visual effects generated by Sterne's text; see Chapter 2, Part 1, 47-48.
4. FHwarH Mangin, A View of the Pleasures Arising from a Love of Books: In Letters
to a Lady (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Browne; and Upham, 1814), 92-
94. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text. Although published in 1810, Mangin' s
commentary on Maria possibly was written at least a decade earlier. Catherine Gordon
suggests that Mangin may have been inspired by a print of Maria when writing this
passage ( British Paintings of Subjects from the English Novel 1740-1870, Outstanding
Theses in the Fine Arts from British Universities [New York and London: Garland, 1988],
74)_ as John Cowper Powys openly admits to being when writing his commentary 125
years later (see Chapter 2, Part 2, 78).
5. John Mullan. Sentiment and Sociability: The Languag e of Feeling in the Eighteenth
Century (Oxford: Clarendon, 1988), 227.
6. Tom Keymer, ed. A Sentimental Journey and Other Writings by Laurence Sterne
(London: J. M. Dent; Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle, 1994) finds likely sources in Samuel
12:3, Isaiah 56:7, and Psalm 141:2 (159 nn. 97).
7. In his notes to A Sentimental Journey (1 59 n. 97), Keymer locates the first use of
this proverb, commonly believed to be biblical, in Henri Estienne, Les Premices (1593),
47, where it appears as " Dieu mesure le froid a la brebis tondue ."
8. For further discussion of the sentimental-religious characteristics of Sterne's
sermons, see Arthur Hill Cash, Sterne's Comedy of Moral Sentimen ts: The Ethical
Dimension of the "Journey" (Duquesne Studies Philological Series 6; Pittsburgh, PA:
DuquesneU. Press, 1966), esp. 103-24.
9. Arguably, the positive humanism of philosophical tracts like David Hume's Treatise
of Human Nature (1739-40) and Adam Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759)
complemented the benevolence of Christian belief (especially that of Latitudinarian
Anglicanism) to create a particularly fertile environment for the growth of sentimentalism.
See also Chapter 4, 224 n. 7 for a list of resources that address sentimentalism.
10. Gordon 263-67.
11. There appears to have been widespread interest in sentimentalism on both sides of
the Atlantic in the late-eighteenth century. Several publishers in the United States
produced editions of Sterne's work (including Beauties ) as well as of Henry Mackenzie's
The Man of Feeling ; for further discussion, see Lodwick Hartley, '"The Dying Soldier and
the Love-Lorn Virgin': Notes on Sterne's Early Reception in America" (Southern
Humanities Review 4 \ 19701: 69-80).
12. See The Letters of Maria (London: G. Kearsley, 1790); The Whole Story of the
Sorrows of Maria, of Moulines. Selected from Various Works of the Celebrated Sterne.
A Tale. Founded on Fact (Boston: n.p., 1793); Mark (n.p.: n.p., n.d. [c. 1800]); and
Sterne's Maria: A Pathetic Storv. With an Account of Her Death, at the Castle o f
Valerian (London: R. Rusted, n.d. [c. 1800]). The Letters of Maria identifies Maria's lost
lover as St. Flo, a similarly sensitive being who turns to religion after their separation;
these embellishments of Sterne's story strongly parallel Alexander Pope's 1717 "Eloisa to
Abelard," with which it shares elements of true love deterred, religious piety, and Gothic
13. The ballad by John Moulds entitled "Stern's Maria" (Philadelphia: G. Willig,
between 1795 and 1797) was also known, after its opening line, as '"Twas near a thicket's
calm retreat"; it was frequently republished, and continued to appear in collections
through the mid-nineteenth century.
"Stern's Maria" had been re-published in Boston between 1810 and 1814 by Nathaniel
Coverly, Jr., along with the song, "The Rose," which begins "To a shady retreat fair Eliza
I trac'd." The apparent expansion of the pantheon of Sternean sentimental heroines to
include Eliza is intriguing in light of the scarcity of her appearances in A Sentimental
Journey (see Chapter 4, 225 n. 9) and as evidence of the cross-pollination between the real
and fictional popular images of Sterne. The frontispiece of the Dove Classics edition
combining Letters from Yorick to Eliza with A Sentimental Journey and Goethe's The
Sorrows of Young Werther (London: T. Allman, 1835), by C. Heath, features Yorick and
Lydia gazing at a painting of Eliza with the caption underneath: "She has got your picture
and likes it"; this, along with a title page portrayal of Maria, constitutes all the illustration
in this edition, implying a growing identification of Maria with Eliza, as well as a popular
interest in the characters.
For a more comprehensive catalogue of late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century
music adapted from Sterne's texts, see J. C. T. Oates, "Maria and the Bell: Music of
Sternean Origin," in The Winged Skull: Bicentenary Conference Papers on Laurence
Sterne , ed. Arthur H. Cash and John M. Stedmond (Kent, OH: Kent State U. Press,
14. Gordon 73. Unfortunately, Gordon does not provide examples to support this
assertion; these paintings would provide useful comparisons with the many visual
renditions of Maria.
15. Gordon 73-74. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text. The citation is from
Joshua Reynolds, Discourses on Art . Discourse III, ed. Robert R. Wark (New Haven, CT:
Yale U. Press, 1966), 50-51.
16. Catherine Gordon, "More Than One Handle," Words: Wai-t e-Ata Studies in
Literature 4 (Wellington: Wai-te-Ata, 1974), 53.
17. David Alexander, "Sterne, the Eighteenth-Century Print Market, and the Prints in
Shandy Hall," Shandean 5 (1993): 110.
18. Gordon, BPS 263-67. Additional extant prints (as well as paintings) of Maria
may be miscatalogued in ignorance of their literary reference. One example of this
miscataloguing can be seen in the item description for an online auction that describes a
Wedgwood vase depicting Maria, the Bourbonnois shepherd, and two cherubs as "a sweet
little love story, told in four beautifully executed scenes" (<http//:cgi.ebay.com/aw-
cgi/eBayISAPI.dll?Viewitem&item=1301 125830> 23 November 2001). Neither Maria,
Sterne, nor A Sentimental Journey is mentioned in the description.
19. Unsigned editor's note to Joseph Moser, "Memoir of the Late Angelica
Kauffmann, R.A.," The European Magazine and London Review (April 1809): 254.
20. In The Dwight and Lucille Beeson Wedgwood Collection at the Birmingham
Museum of Art (Birmingham, AL: Birmingham Museum of Art, 1992), Elizabeth Bryding
Adams states that the design was adapted for Wedgwood in 1783 (62).
Little is known about the actual production numbers of Wedgwood and other
porcelain and pottery items; even the Wedgwood archives, which document most of the
variety of items that were embellished with the image of Maria, offer no help in gauging
the production numbers of these pieces. One might suggest that, since the current
auction price of a 1790 tea pot featuring Maria is priced the same as a similarly dated
teapot without the motif, the pieces were likely as widely produced in similar numbers as
For additional examples and analysis, see W. B. Gerard, '"Poor Maria' in
Wedgwood," Shandean 12 (2001): 88-98.
21. Robin Reilly, Wedgwood Jasper (1989; New York: Thames and Hudson, 1994),
22. Although the predominance of the solitary, mourning Maria of most visual
renditions gave way in the 1790s to portrayals of the character accompanied by Yorick,
the image of the lonely and melancholy Maria continued in the decorative arts, peaking in
the first two decades of the nineteenth century, when Wedgwood, Spode, and
Staffordshire all produced freestanding statues of Maria. In addition, small dishes with no
manufacturing marks with the motif of the mournful Maria were produced; these may have
been extremely common in their time.
Wedgwood apparently continued to produce Maria's images on jasper-ware through
the late-twentieth century. It might be suggested, however, that the link between the
image and Sterne's text had dissolved for most of the buying public along the way; as a
result, Maria became an icon independent of her originating text.
23. Markman Ellis, The Politics of Sensibility (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge
U. Press, 1996), 27.
24. The complete list of the seven editions which include similar images of Maria
walking with Yorick is as follows: A Sentimental Journey . London: J. Good and E. and S.
Harding, 1792 (by Thomas Stothard); London: J. Creswick and Co., 1794 (by M. Archer;
see fig. 4-7); Vienna: R. Sammer, 1795 (unsigned); London: William Holland, 1795 and
1797, and London: J. Wallis, 1812 (by Richard Newton); Edinburgh: J. Fairburn and A.
Mackay, 1806 (unsigned); a print series, Humourous Illustrations to the Works of Sterne
(London: J. Bumpers, 1820) by I. H. Clark; and the anonymously written and illustrated
Sterne's Maria (London: Rusted, n.d. [c.1800]).
Two editions include portrayals of the seated pair ( A Sentimental Journey , London: T.
Hurst and C. Chappie, 1803 [by William Marshall Craig], and London: Jones and Co.,
183 1 [unsigned]). Aside from these seven, I have not located any other book illustrations
of the character published in this period.
25. Mullan227. Th* quote frnm John Rail is from The Female Physician: or. Every
Woman Her Own Doctor (London: n.p., 1771), 11.
26. De Lignac. A Physical View of Man and Woman, in a State of Marriage.
Translated from the Last French Edition of M. de Lignac . (London: Vernor and Hood,
27. A Physical View 2.8-9.
28. According to Adams, the depiction from Goethe's The Sorrows of Young
Werther . designed by Lady Templetown in 1787, portrays Lotte as she "kneels at the
tomb of her lover" (120). The thematic similarity between Maria and Lotte (whose source
of distress is different from Maria's) adds further evidence to the popularity of melancholy
themes during the late-eighteenth century.
29. A Physical View 2.7.
30. Ellis 164.
31. Tom Keymer, "Marvell, Thomas Hollis, and Sterne's Maria: Parody in A
Sentimental Journey," Shandean 5 (1993): 10-11. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the
32. Keymer suggests that Maria's scene in A Sentimental Journey is a parody of
Marvell's poem, noting parallels between the two texts such as the theme of a "lost love
[which] is poignantly recapitulated or renewed by the loss of a pet" (15) and the name
Sylvio, shared by both the nymph's lover and Maria's dog. While a parody of "The
Nymph's Complaint" might have gone unnoticed by most of Sterne's contemporary
readers— Marvell was not popular among the general reading public in 1768— Keymer
asserts it may have been appreciated within Sterne's circle, which included Thomas Hollis,
a wealthy "enthusiast of Marvell" (19), who initiated a new edition of the poet's works.
For Keymer, the parodic connection to Marvell makes it "hard to think of Maria as simply
an instance of picturesque distress, or even as the subject of some mildly improper rapture.
She becomes instead an instance of parody, an ironically debased version of the grieving
33. One of the two additional editions which include the motif of the separated pair is
a composite edition of A Sentimental Journey . Letters from Yorick to Eliza , and The
Sorrows of Young Werther (London: T. Allman, 1835; see n. 10 above); C. Heath's
illustration for the title page portrays Yorick at a considerable distance from Maria.
34. John Doyle, A Study for Sterne's Maria (lithograph; London: Thomas McLean,
35. H. D. Traill, Sterne (London: Macmillan, 1889), 157. Hereafter cited
parenthetically in the text.
36. Research Library Group Union Catalogue (16 November 2001
<http://eureka.rlg.org>) suggests that the fifth edition of The Women of England was
published in the same year as the twenty-first edition. The headnote in The Norton
Anthology of English Literature: The Victorian Age . 7 th ed. (New York; London: W. W.
Norton and Co., 2000), 1721, states that Ellis's book went through sixteen editions in two
37. Sarah Stickney Ellis, The Women of England. Their Social Duties, and Domestic
Habits . 21 st ed. (London; Paris: Fisher, Son, and Co., 1839), 19. Hereafter cited
parenthetically in the text. Ellis also authored The Wives of England in 1843.
38. Leloir's lively visualizations set a popular standard in illustration for decades to
come: for instance, his work accompanies a one-page excerpt from A Sentimental Journey
in the Golden Book Magazine nearly a half century after its initial publication (14:81
[Sept. 1931]: 131).
The Leloir illustration examined here is from A Sentimental Journey . Philadelphia: J.
B. Lippincott, 1885; a partial list of other editions with the same (or slightly abbreviated)
series of illustrations includes Paris: Jules Tallender, n.d. [c. 1880]; Paris: Librarie
Artistique, 1884; New York: Brentanos, n.d.; New York: J. W. Boulton, 1884; London:
G. Routledge and Sons, 1885; Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1887, 1891; and New York:
Belford Co., n.d. [c.1890].
39. The two other editions which feature Maria in this vein are A Sentimental
Journey . London: Routledge, 1888 ("Illustrated with seventy-five engravings on wood by
Bastin and G. P. Nichols from Original Designs by Jacque and Fussell") and Paris: Ernest
Bourdin, n.d. [c. 1890] ("Edition illustree par MM Tony Johannot et Jacque"). The later
edition duplicates some artwork from the earlier one, but the depiction of Maria is
different in each.
40. Gordon catalogues twelve other academy paintings portraying Maria between
1840-1884, although reproductions or descriptions of these works were unavailable for
examination as of this writing.
41. Three paintings and one book illustration make visual reference to Tristram
Shandy 's Maria, perhaps an attempt to separate the character from its sentimental origins.
See Gordon, BPS 88.
42. Bram Dijkstra. Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siecle
Culture (Oxford and New York: Oxford U. Press, 1986), 46, 42. Hereafter cited
parenthetically in the text.
43. Tristram's jesting description of Maria's seeming confusion suggests a reference
to the myth of Circe:
Maria look'd wistfully for some time at me, and then at her goat and then at
me and then at her goat again, and so on, alternately
-Well, Maria, said I softly What resemblance do you find?
I do intreat the candid reader to believe me, that it was from the humblest
conviction of what a Beast man is, that I ask'd the question . . . (TS
Just as Ulysses's men are transformed into swine by Circe, Maria's confused gaze seems
to "transform" Tristram into a goat; in both instances, the bestial associations mirror
aspects of the male inner psyche. Here the goat also conveys a tug of the sensual that
might balance the scene's stress on delicate and ethereal feeling, and thus might prevent
Tristram from becoming a disembodied sympathizer.
44. Modern readers may not appreciate the Sternean ambiguities present in the use of
"enthusiasm," which, according to the OED, could indicate either possession by
"supernatural inspiration" or "misdirected religious emotion" in the eighteenth century.
45. The unsigned illustration of Maria from Tristram Shandy (London: Ingram, Cooke
and Co., 1853, frontispiece) also suggests Maria's role as siren.
46. At the same time, however, the late-eighteenth-century idea of delicate sentiment
seems to have survived in this period, perhaps savored in private by clandestine admirers.
At least one edition of The Beauties of Sterne (bound in the same volume as The Beauties
of Johnson [New York: Leavitt and Allen, 1856]) was published in mid-century, and the
contents of its ornately bordered pages are nearly identical with similar collections of
seventy years before. As in the earlier edition, both versions of the story of Maria are
included in the mid-century version of Beauties .
47. While Maria continued to be illustrated in both of Sterne's long fictions in the
twentieth century, at least four illustrators of Tristram Shandy (Austen, Lawrence,
Baldessari, and Rowson) did not portray her.
48. See W. B. Gerard, "Sterne Illustrated" (Shandean 13 ) for additional
information about nineteenth- and early twentieth-century portrayals of Maria on
Wedgewood jasper-ware and similar decorative items.
49. The widespread interest in portrayals of Uncle Toby has been most
comprehensively documented by W. G. Day in "Charles Robert Leslie's 'My Uncle Toby
and the Widow Wadman': The Nineteenth-Century Icon of Sterne's Work," Shandean 9
(1997): 83-108. Uncle Toby was prominent in several literary anthologies in the mid-
nineteenth century, as well as the primary subject of a selection of Sterne's work, The
Story of Mv Uncle Tobv. etc. (New York: Scribner, Welford, and Co., 1871), compiled
by his biographer Percy Fitzgerald. The character also may have been the inspiration for a
series of children's books and for the name of an Australian supermarket chain. As is the
case with Maria, the broad cultural phenomenon of Toby deserves a more detailed analysis
than can be provided in this space.
50. For instance, the other five scenes by Darley in the 1852 edition primarily feature
Toby, as do four out of the six illustrations by Henry Furniss published in 1883.
51. Excerpts from Sterne's work entitled "The Story of Le Fevre" and "Noble
Poverty" appear in Gleanings from Popular Authors. Grave and Gay (London. Cassell and
Co.,n.d. [c. 1890]).
Fig. 5-1. George Carter, Miss Carter as Maria (n.d. [c. 1773]; polychrome oil on
Fig. 5-2. W. W. Ryland, 1779 engraving of Angelica Kauffmann,
Maria near Moulines (1777; polychrome on copper).
Fig. 5-3. Wedgwood "solitaire" jasper ware tea set [c. 1780]. The image of
Maria is featured on the teapot, left center.
Figure 5-4. Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun, Duchesse d' Orleans (1789;
polychrome oil on canvas).
X**t«V" JW r*& * . i 7 9 'J £*4£# ■ t-f-J* -? ^ /*V> .-/«> W*.^rt »r <**? * /-* J*
Fig. 5-5. Illustration by Thomas Stothard for Laurence Sterne, A
Sentimental Journey (London: J. Good and E. and S. Harding,
Fig. 5-6. Angelica Kauffmann, The Handkerchief- Moulines ( 1 782;
polychrome oil on canvas).
Fig. 5-7. John Northcote, Yorick and Maria at Moulines (1784; polychrome oil on
mine & Leitpfihettiiup Mr Shiny
lp lei Ihr Dog fh/frtv ui 'Wrt.
order we entered Xfcufuies.
• •■^jf.-i— :j - : ■ , ^»»-— tmr-
Ufai- i«Hi»fci'yv^t jaim m i ttidfii ty i j ', tifcy II* -<-w*-Ao» : *
Fig. 5-8. Illustration (unsigned) for the anonymously written Sterne's
Maria (London: Rusted, n.d. [c. 1800]), frontispiece.
Figure 5-9. Illustration (hand-tinted polychrome) by I. H. Clark for
Humourous Scenes from Sterne (London: J. Bumpus, 1820).
Fig. 5-10. Illustration (unsigned) for Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey (New
York: James Gournay, 1827), 175.
Fig. 5-11. Illustration (unsigned) for Laurence Sterne, Works (London: Henry
G. Bohn, 1854), title page detail.
Fig. 5-12. Illustration by Maurice Leloir for Laurence Sterne, A
Sentimental Journey (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1884),
Fig. 5-13. W. P. Frith, Stern's Maria [sjc](1868; polychrome oil on canvas).
Fig. 5-14. Arthur Hughes, Ophelia (1852; polychrome oil on canvas).
Fig. 5-15. Illustration by Darley for Laurence Sterne, Works
(Philadelphia: Griggs, Elliot and Co., 1848).
Fig. 5-16. Lumb Stocks, engraving [c. 1880] of Charles Robert Leslie,
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A SELECTED LIST OF VISUAL REPRESENTATIONS
OF THE WORKS OF LAURENCE STERNE
The following is a list of visual references included or discussed in this study. Entries
are grouped under the titles of the texts that they depict, and are organized chronologically
within each group. When possible, other editions that include the same illustrations have
been listed under each artist's name, as well. N.B. Illustrators of early editions are often
unidentified or identified by last name only. If a painting had been engraved, the image is
listed under the painter's name.
London: R. and J. Dodsley, 1760.
London: Ingram, Cooke and Co., 1853.
London: J. C. Nimmo and Bain, 1883.
London: John Lane; New York: Dodd, Mead, 1928.
London: Harap; New York: Brentanos, 1929.
T. M. Cleland
New York: Heritage Press, 1935.
London: Macdonald, 1975.
London: Folio Society, 1970.
San Francisco: Arion Press, 1988.
A Sentimental Journey
London: W. Strahan, T. Cadell, G. Robinson, J. Murray, T. Evans, etc., 1780.
London: J. Good and E. and S. Harding, 1792.
London: J. Creswick and Co., 1794.
Vienna: R. Sammer, 1795.
London: William Holland, 1795.
London: J. Wallis, 1812.
(slightly variant plates)
Gerard Rene Le Villain
Paris: Ant. Aug. Renouard, 1802.
William Marshall Craig
London: T. Hurst and C. Chappie, 1803.
Edinburgh: J. Fairburn and A. Mackay, 1806.
London: J. Johnson, etc., 1808.
New York: James Gournay, 1827.
London: Jones and Co., 1831.
London: T. Allman, 1835 (with Letters from Yorick to Eliza and The Sorrows of Young
Jacque and Fussell
London: Routledge, 1888.
Tony Johannot and Jacque
Paris: Ernest Bourdin, n.d. [c. 1890].
Paris: Jules Tallender, n.d. [c. 1880].
Paris: Librarie Artistique, 1884.
New York: Brentanos, n.d. [c. 1885].
New York: J. W. Boulton, 1884.
Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1885.
Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1887, 1891.
New York: Belford Co., n.d. [c.1890].
Troy, NY: Nimo and Knight, 1892.
Golden Book Magazine 14:81 (Sept. 1931).
London: Macdonald, 1954.
New York: Capricorn Books, 1964.
London: L. Cochrane, 1832.
London: Navarre Society, n.d. [1873 and 1926].
London: Hutchinson, 1906.
Philadelphia: Griggs, Elliot and Co., 1848.
London: Henry G. Bonn, 1854.
Beauties of Sterne
London: Thomas Tegg, 1808.
Prints and Print Sets:
London: William Holland, 1797 (variant of 1795 A Sentimental Journey above);
also 1812, 1818 (some variants of 1797 above).
I. H. Clark
Humourous Illustrations to the Works of Sterne . London: J. Bumpers, 1820.
A Study for Sterne's Maria . London: Thomas McLean, 1833.
Miss Carter as Maria , n.d. [c. 1773]; polychrome oil on canvas.
Maria near Moulines . 1777; polychrome oil on copper.
Engr. W. W. Ryland, 1779.
The Handkerchief- Moulines . 1782; polychrome oil on canvas.
Yorick and Maria at Moulines . 1784; polychrome oil on canvas.
Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun
Duchess d'Orleans . 1789; polychrome oil on canvas.
Charles Robert Leslie
My Uncle Tobv and the Widow Wadman . 1 829 and 1831; polychrome oil on canvas.
Engr. Lumb Stocks, n.d. [c. 1880].
W. P. Frith
Stern's Maria [sic]. 1 868; polychrome oil on canvas.
Other Renditions of the Work of Laurence Sterne:
Lady Templetown, designer
Wedgwood "solitaire" jasper-ware tea set. n.d. [c. 1780].
Illustration for Sterne's Maria . London: Rusted, n.d. [c.1800].
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandv. Gentleman
Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 1997.
Visual Renditions of Other Literary Texts:
Ophelia . 1852; polychrome oil on canvas.
Illustration for Henry Mackenzie, The Man of Feeling . Paris: Theophilus Barrois, 1807.
Illustration for Henry Mackenzie, The Man of Feeling . New York: Century, 1907.
William B. Gerard was born in New York, grew up in Jackson Heights, Queens, and
graduated from Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan. After attending Harpur College at
the State University of New York at Binghamton and Hunter College of the City
University of New York, he pursued a career in magazine publishing, culminating in the
creation of a national consumer magazine in 1992. William received a bachelor's degree
in English from Florida Atlantic University in 1996. He wrote his master's thesis on
Laurence Sterne under the directorship of Carol McGuirk and received a master's degree
in English from FAU in 1997. He entered the University of Florida in 1998, where he
continued his study of the work of Laurence Sterne under the guidance of Melvyn New.
William has accepted the position of Assistant Professor of English at Auburn University
Montgomery beginning Fall 2002.
I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to acceptable
standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as a
dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
4elvyn New, Cnairm;
Melvyn New, Chairman
Professor of English
I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to acceptable
standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as a
dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Professor of English
I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to acceptable
standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as a
dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Professor of English
I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to acceptable
standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as a
dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
C. John Sommerville
Professor of English History
This dissertation was submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Department of English
in the College of Liberal Arts and to the Graduate School and was accepted as partial
fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Dean, Graduate School
20 c a J
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
3 1262 08555 0340